b.18 June 1909 d.5 December 1983
MRCS LRCP(1933) MRCP(1935) MB BChir Cantab(1937) MD(1945) FRCP(1947)
Alastair Hunter came from a medical family. His father was a general practitioner in Sussex, and he was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge, before going on to St George’s Hospital, from where he qualified in 1933.
He soon gained stature as a physician, rising through the medical ranks at St George’s and starting to develop his specialty of cardiology. He was a disciple of John Parkinson at the London Hospital, where he was Paterson research scholar in the cardiac department. He served as an EMS physician at the London Hospital 1939 —1945 and then went to the Far East as a medical specialist in the RAMC.
He returned to St George’s in 1947 to set up the cardiac department, where Aubrey Leatham later joined him. He continued to do medicine and cardiology during the whole of his long career at St George’s, but also became increasingly involved in the vast transition which that hospital and its associated medical school were about to experience and was, in fact, one of the formative figures responsible for those changes. He, Ken Robson (q.v.), James Dow (q.v.) and others had the vision, in the early 1950s, to see that the teaching hospital would be better placed in the centre of an ordinary population rather than as it was, at Hyde Park Corner, and they set in train the events which led to the development of school and hospital at Tooting.
For fifteen years from 1956, Hunter was dean of the medical school. In this job his remarkable gifts came to the fore. He knew all the students, their strengths and weaknesses and knew too how to recognize and bring out their latent attributes. His judgement of people was phenomenally precise, and appointments committees usually had the good sense to follow his lead. An accurate judge, but also totally free from malice, and with another gift, for friendship, so that generations of St George’s graduates look back on his role there with gratitude. On the larger scale, he steered the school through some of the biggest changes in its history and set it on the course towards the large independent medical school which it has now become.
He became an important influence beyond St George’s, especially in the University of London. He was a member of the senate and the academic council, and he became chairman of the conference of metropolitan deans. At the College, he served as assistant registrar (1950-1957), censor (1971-1973) and vice-president and senior censor (1974-1975).
Hunter was a cultivated man of wide learning. One of his special talents was for modern painting, of which he made a notable collection. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, benefited from his guidance and his generosity. The College, too, was much helped by his artistic knowledge and judgement when it moved to Regent’s Park.
Alastair Hunter had many other gifts: an all round sportsman for whom cricket, squash and cross-country running were perhaps his favourites, but soccer and golf too were not neglected. It happened that the first bit of the new St George’s medical school actually built was the squash courts, a cause of much amusement among visitors. He was running and playing cricket into his seventies and continued, too, an active working life after retirement, helping to plan the Cambridge clinical school and advising the Association of Commonwealth Universities. He had a cardiac operation and had, after a bad patch, returned nearly to his normal health when he died suddenly. Alastair was unmarried.
His sister Diana survived him.
[Brit.med.J., 1984, 288, 573; Lancet, 1984, 1, 116, 236, 295; Memorial Address, Sir Denis Logan, St Paul’s Church, 9 Feb 1984]
(Volume VII, page 291)
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