Lives of the fellows

Alistair Douglas Forrest

b.17 Oct 1924 d.10 May 1979
MB ChB St And (1947) DPM (1949) MRCP (1955) MD (1959) MRCPE (1967) FRCPE (1970) FRCPsych (1973) FRCP (1977)

Alistair Forrest became nationally known as a psychiatrist in Britain because of his work at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, to which he was appointed as a consultant in 1960. He became the physician superintendent of Gogarburn Hospital in addition in 1971, developing the ‘Scottish pattern’, then newly introduced, of having general 192 psychiatrists work in the field of mental subnormality. Forrest succeeded in transforming the hospital and its service with a new spirit of optimism. He went as visiting professor to the University of Saskatchewan in 1976-1977, and then left Edinburgh to become a professor in the department of psychiatry at Saskatchewan. He died tragically early in Saskatoon of a brain tumour.

His professional and academic achievements were considerable. He won the Gaskell gold medal of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association in 1959. (As a medical student he was awarded a gold medal for zoology at St Andrews University.) He was lecturer in the department of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh from 1958 to 1960. He developed a computer assisted follow-up service for schizophrenic patients in 1971. He was a chief author of a much quoted follow-up study of schizophrenic patients in 1963. He was the first editor of the Edinburgh textbook Companion to Psychiatric Studies published in 1973.

A friendly, cheerful, immensely approachable and kind colleague, Alistair Forrest was genuinely interested in his patients and his associates, with a warmth and spontaneity which sometimes seemed to disguise his firmness of purpose, his great energy, his resolute capacity for hard work; his many drug trials were conducted and papers written with no evidence of strain or pressure.

His father had been an actuary in an Edinburgh firm in Bombay, where Alistair was born. The father retired to Edinburgh where he died at the age of 96 years in 1979; Alistair only knew his father as a comfortably off retired gentleman. His mother, the youngest of twelve children, had a father who was a ship’s chandler in Leith, owning a fleet of boats trading around the Scottish islands. She married when nearly 40, her husband then having attained the status which his firm considered appropriate to marriage. She died in Edinburgh aged 87 years.

The older of the two children is Bertram (now an anaesthetist in Yorkshire). The boys were sent at the age of four to a boarding school in Edinburgh for children of parents living abroad. As a schoolboy Alistair was chosen to play schools rugby for Scotland, but he broke an ankle before the international when fifteen. He then did his first serious studying, winning a scholarship to St Andrews, where he left his medical studies with first class honours, also playing rugby, gaining a hockey Blue, and as middleweight boxing champion. (He later campaigned to have boxing stopped in public schools.) He also edited the University magazine.

He was married twice, and had three children. His widow lives in Canada. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1955 and a fellow in 1977. He was also a fellow of the Edinburgh College, and of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He had a vigorous, productive and useful life, not without stresses but also with much happiness. He could surprise those who knew him with bold, unexpected and novel undertakings, such as the decision only a few years before he died to go to Canada.HJW(2)


(Volume VII, page 191)

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