Lives of the fellows

Ian George Wilson (Sir) Hill

b.7 September 1904 d.5 May 1982
Kt(1966) CBE(1945) TD MBChB Edin(1928) FRCPE(1933) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1956) Hon LLD(1970)†

Ian Hill was born in Shotts, Lanarkshire, the son of a banker, Alexander Wilson Hill, JP and his wife, Jean Robertson, daughter of George Lockhart Malcolm. His early childhood in South Uist fostered his love of nature and his skill as a fly fisherman. A schoolboy prodigy at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, he foreshadowed his later distinctions when he addressed the British Association on the subject of lepidoptera. He graduated with honours at Edinburgh University, winning the Ettles scholarship as the most distinguished medical graduate of the year. His early career was influenced by WT Ritchie and Sir Edward Sharpey-Schaefer, and a Rockefeller travelling fellowship enabled him to work with Frank N Wilson, the world authority on electrocardiography at the famous Heart Station in Ann Arbor. This was probably the happiest time in his life and certainly one of the most important. He became deeply involved with a team of enthusiastic young men who were pioneering the use of electrocardiography in the study of myocardial infarction, and all of them later achieved distinction. He next travelled to Vienna to work with Karl Wenckebach. His German was fluent and his Viennese pursuits were cultural as well as medical. There followed lectureships in Aberdeen with Stanley Davidson, and in Edinburgh with Derrick Dunlop. His academic career was interrupted by the second world war. A keen territorial, he was mobilized at its outbreak and served throughout, mostly in the Middle East, India and Burma. By 1945 he was a youthful brigadier, consultant physician to the XlVth Army and to the Allied Land Forces, South East Asia, and had been appointed CBE. On returning to Edinburgh he resumed work as an assistant physician at the Royal Infirmary, and also became consultant physician at the Deaconess Hospital. His prominence in the field of cardiology (he had already introduced the use of unipolar (V) ECG leads to Britain) was recognized by an invitation to give the Gibson lecture at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

He had quickly established a successful private consultant practice, but in 1950 he sacrificed that to return to academic life when he succeeded Adam Patrick as professor of medicine in the University of St Andrews. At its medical school in Dundee, he was one of a group of newly appointed wholetime professors charged with raising academic standards and initiating research. He soon built up a department with young lecturers who, under his guidance, were to carry out notable work in cardiology, endocrinology and diabetes, nephrology and neurology. He regarded his chief task as that of undergraduate education, but he also attracted postgraduate students from overseas, particularly the USA, India and Hong Kong. He was a master clinician over the whole field of medicine and a brilliant and memorable undergraduate teacher, whether in the vivid declamatory formal lecture, the professorial grand round or the less formal discussions in an over-crowded seminar room, where he would light a cigarette and enthrall his undergraduate and postgraduate students with illustrative anecdotes.

Having established a secure base in Dundee he was able to embark on extramural activities. He was appointed physician to the Queen in Scotland and gave valued service to the Royal Family on several occasions. He was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1963-1966) and travelled widely on its behalf in Australasia, India, Africa and the Far East. Among his other distinctions were the presidencies of the Scottish Society of Physicians and the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland, and the chairmanship of the British Cardiac Society. His continued military interests led to an honorary colonelcy of the 2nd Scottish General Hospital (1947—1958) and he was appointed consulting physician to Scottish Command (1965-1970). When he retired from his chair in 1969 the University of Dundee acknowledged his service by the award of an honorary LLD.

The phenomenal energy which Ian had shown throughout his career did not flag, however, and he went on to spend a year as visiting professor in the University of Teheran and two years as dean of the Faculty of Medicine in the Haile Selassie I University of Ethiopia.

Ian Hill was short and slight in build but his military bearing, superabundant energy, ceaseless striving, penetrating intellect, erudition and witty repartee commanded attention in all circles. He was a front-line fighter, not a back-room diplomatist. Fearless in his beliefs, he did not hide his contempt for pretension or his irritation at incompetence. But the rather prickly manner concealed — perhaps too well — a sensitive and warm-hearted man, deeply compassionate, who inspired loyalty and returned it. In Vienna Wenckebach once said to him ‘Cardiology is your first love: it will be your last love’. And so it was: his last paper in a medical journal in 1980 surveyed the treatment of heart disease over half a century. It may have given him secret satisfaction to reflect that in that time he had brought hope and succour to many thousands of patients of all ages afflicted with heart disease.

He married, in 1933, Ellen Audrey Lavender, the daughter of an industrial chemist, who had trained as a nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. They had one daughter and one son, Alasdair, whose appointment as QC gave Sir Ian much pleasure. Lady Hill died in 1967 and he later married his cousin, Anna. Her constant companionship brought him great happiness, in Iran and Ethiopia, and eventually in their retirement to a charming cottage in Crail. The number of friends and former students who visited them from all over the world was a tribute to them both, and the cordiality of their welcome was a legend.

D Emslie-Smith
KG Lowe

† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.

[Brit.med.J., 1982, 284, 1637 & 1779; Lancet, 1982, 1, 1257-58; RCP Edin. Chronicle, Nov 1982, 12,(4)]

(Volume VII, page 262)

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