Lives of the fellows

Alexander Lyall

b.5 August 1896 d.11 May 1974
MA Aberd(1920) MB ChB(1923) MD(1926) MRCP(1926) FRCP(1940) LLD Aberd(1971)

Sandy Lyall, as he was known to everyone, was born in Aberdeen. His father was a carpenter in the City of Aberdeen and in 1927 he married Helen Simpson Cumming, a daughter of Charles Cumming, moulder, also residing in the City of Aberdeen.

He was educated at Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, and thereafter served with the 4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders in World War I. He was severely wounded at Ypres in 1917 and after he recovered, he entered the Faculty of Arts at Aberdeen University, graduating MA in 1920. He then studied medicine and graduated MB ChB in 1923 with first class honours. During his medical course, he gained four gold medals and the James Murray medal as the most distinguished student of the year.

He was appointed house surgeon to the Aberdeen Royal Hospital for Sick Children and spent one year as assistant in the Department of Anatomy. He was then awarded the Anderson Travelling Scholarship and spent two years studying clinical medicine and clinical chemistry at St. Thomas’ Hospital under Hugh McLean and Gardiner Hill. It was with Hugh McLean that he developed his interest in diabetes and other metabolic disorders. After passing the examination for MRCP (Lond.) he was invited to return to Aberdeen to the new post of lecturer in Clinical Chemistry at the University and clinical chemist to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. At a later date, the post was designated consultant physician for diseases of metabolism. He will be remembered for his work as a chemical pathologist but particularly for his clinical work in diabetes, and for his superlative care of diabetics in the North-east Region of Scotland. He introduced treatment with insulin in 1926 and over a period of 35 years, many hundreds of patients with diabetes and other metabolic diseases appreciated his great kindness and skill in the wards and out-patient clinics of the Royal Infirmary.

His published work is concerned mainly with the metabolic aspects of disease, diabetes and anaemia. For a number of years he was Secretary to the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society and in 1957 was elected President. His Presidential address to the Society was an illustrated study of the life of John Memis (who practised as a doctor of medicine in Aberdeen in the 18th century) and reflected his interest and competence in the field of historical research.

After he retired from his clinical and laboratory work in 1961, he devoted much of his time to University affairs. He had been a member of the business committee of the General Council for 20 years and was now elected Assessor to the University Court. As convener of the Building Sub-committee, he had considerable responsibility in the planning and erection of all new University buildings for the next 13 years. He served on many other committees of the University Court, time consuming tasks which he undertook willingly, and he was regarded as an able administrator who reached decisions quickly and fairly. He pursued this unremitting work until a few months before his death. His sterling work for the University Court was recognised, when in 1971, the University conferred on him the degree of LLD.

Sandy Lyall, though small in stature, was big in heart. He was endowed with a robust constitution, and most of us who knew him well will remember his friendliness and his buoyant and cheerful personality. Sandy Lyall has not changed, we often said, and even long after his retirement he retained his youthful appearance.

His teaching of medical students was straightforward, down-to-earth and without flamboyance. Though he practised clinical medicine and chemical pathology, he will be remembered for his work in the latter specialty and for his willingness to help and advise his colleagues at all times.

In his younger days, he was a keen shot and found immense pleasure in fishing for sea trout on the River Dee. After his retirement, he acquired a great knowledge of gardening.

In 1927, he married Emma Allan Strachan, daughter of David Strachan, baker, of Aberdeen. There were three sons, Alexander Lyall, FRCS who was drowned in 1965, Alan a general practitioner in Laurencekirk, and Malcolm a consultant ophthalmologist in Essex.

Alexander Lyall died in Aberdeen after an illness of a few months’ duration.

Ian Gordon

[Brit.med.J., 1974, 2, 564; Lancet, 1974, 1, 1063]

(Volume VI, page 303)

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