Lives of the fellows

Michael Blair Macaulay

b.14 June 1933 d.8 July 1983
BA Oxon(1954) BM BCh(1957) MA(1958) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1976)

Michael Macaulay was the second son of distinguished Liverpool medical parents. His father, Blair Macaulay, who was originally a GP and took the MRCP rather later than usual, became Liverpool’s first allergist. Michael’s mother, Mary, pioneered birth control in the city and was renowned for her undergraduate lectures (complete with samples in a shopping bag) on what was then a rather recherché subject. Her lectures, books and television appearances were marvels of enlightenment but undoubtedly occasioned her student sons some embarrassing moments. An octogenarian uncle, Dr Blair, lived with the family for many years and had been a notable foreign traveller and author of anthropological works. Michael’s elder brother John, while still an undergraduate, had the unfortunate experience of having his car break down in the university quadrangle during a Royal visit. He is now a successful pathologist in Canada.

Macaulay was educated at Leighton Park School before going up to Oxford and later to the Liverpool clinical school. He entered the Royal Army Medical Corps for his national service, taking a short-term commission and becoming a specialist in medicine with the rank of major before returning to Liverpool. He quickly became the sort of ‘junior’ doctor who, yeoman-like, are the backbone of a hospital, and in the Liverpool tradition of the day he remained a senior registrar long after he became a consultant in all but name. His ability and clinical flair led rapidly to his being regarded as a first rate opinion, particularly for heart problems. When, at last, he was appointed consultant physician to Walton and Fazakerley hospitals his job was general medicine with responsibility for the diabetic clinic, and this soon became one of the largest and most efficient in Britain. Shortly after his appointment he began the battle to establish an intensive care unit which, thanks to him, became a model of its kind. He was also responsible for a large cardiac clinic and ECG service and although nominally part time, he devoted long hours to his hospital commitments. His opinions were widely sought, always carefully analyzed, and full of commonsense. His large private practice was run from his home and in this way he was ably assisted by his wife Doreen, herself a nurse. He gave the North Liverpool population a tremendous service both in the NHS and private practice, inheriting from his father the best qualities of both general physician and general practitioner.

Michael, despite many clinical commitments, showed that administration can be easy - providing one has an abundant supply of intellect, integrity, organization and fairness. He was a successful and popular bedside teacher with four ‘firms’ of students a year. He had an honorary lectureship in clinical medicine and published on a wide range of topics, including leucocyte antigens in pregnancy (his DM thesis), hospital listeriosis, cardiac pacing, hyperosmolar diabetes. But the most characteristic of his writing was his ‘Virtuous Husband Syndrome’ (British Medical Journal, 12 April 1975). He wrote ‘... for example ... a vicar who succours his parishioners day and night, or a doctor constantly attending his patients, or a businessman who by his skill and longworking hours has built up the wealth on which his family depends... will be held in high esteem by all and his wife would herself be considered worthy of contempt were she to object to his activities. Yet she may be equally neglected and, without a reasonable outlet for her insecurity, may take refuge in ill-health’. Michael did not doubt ‘... that most practising clinicians will spot this syndrome from time to time ... in themselves’. Sadly, Michael could not write the sequel to his syndrome which eventually exacts its toll from the virtuous, too.

Michael Macaulay had a natural talent for friendship. This was partly due to his intellect; he was a charming, witty and well informed conversationalist, but also because he was naturally gregarious and compassionate. He excelled in the use of words, and I have rueful student memories of his beating all-comers in defining the most difficult words in the Oxford dictionary. However Michael’s real relaxation was with his wife and their three daughters, Jane who works on the management side of Marks and Spencer, Catherine a St Thomas’s nurse married to a stockbroker, and Anne currently still an undergraduate. Michael also loved to take his caravan to the remote hills where he walked at a prodigious pace to the most inaccessible places. He died, much as he would have wished, suddenly and unexpectedly in the hills of Scotland. Sadly, he was only 50.

RH Harris

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 287, 505, 564; Lancet, 1983, 2, 468]

(Volume VII, page 351)

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