Lives of the fellows

Alastair Goold Macgregor

b.23 December 1919 d.1 June 1972
BSc Glasg(1940) MB ChB(1943) FRCPS(1947) MRCP(1949) MD(1952) MRCPE(1954) FRCPE(1957) FRCPG(1962) FRCP(1963)

Alastair Macgregor was born at Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, the son of George Hogarth Carnaby Macgregor, University Professor of Biblical Criticism, University of Glasgow, and his wife, Christine Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. John Goold, minister of religion of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. His great uncle was William Macgregor, Principal of Trinity College, Edinburgh, and his aunt Dr. Agnes Rose Macgregor, MD, FRCP (Edin), FRCOG, Reader in the Pathology of Diseases of Childhood in the University of Edinburgh. His family background was thus Scots, religious and academic.

Alastair received his early education in Glasgow before going to Kingswood School, Hartford, Connecticut, later returning to Fettes College in Edinburgh. He graduated BSc in physiology prior to qualifying in medicine from the University of Glasgow. He played a prominent part in student life; he was an active member of the Student Representative Council, was a double blue and captained the university teams in golf and in fives. His golf handicap when at university varied between scratch and two and remained in single figures throughout his life.

His first resident appointment with Professor Sir John McNee in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, was followed by service in the RNVR from 1944 to 1946; in this capacity he was involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy and in the liberation of the Channel Islands. Shortly after returning to the Western Infirmary he became a research fellow in the Department of Therapeutics of the University of Sheffield under Sir Edward Wayne, where he was joined by John Goodwin and Graham Wilson to complete a distinguished trio of lecturers. In 1951 he was awarded high commendation for his MD thesis, and a year later was appointed senior lecturer in the University of Edinburgh under Sir Derrick Dunlop, before moving to the Regius Chair of Materia Medica in the University of Aberdeen in 1959.

Alistair Macgregor was under 40 years of age and in his prime when he was given the opportunity of developing his own University department. His infectious enthusiasm and drive won widespread support. His impact on the whole Faculty of Medicine was very great and was marked later by his appointment as Dean of the Faculty, a post he held until a year before his death. A senior colleague and doyen of the university commented that "Alastair did more for Aberdeen in his first few years than most men can hope to achieve in a lifetime of service". He was an outstanding teacher, popular with colleagues, staff and students. His presentation of university needs to the Regional Hospital Board brought many financial benefits to the students.

His sharpness of intellect and his clarity of mind were appreciated far beyond the realms of his own department. He served on the National Formulary Committee of the Association of Physicians, the Medical Research Society, and the British Pharmacological Society. Alastair’s contribution to therapeutics was epitomised by his joint editorship of the classical book on the subject, Textbook of Medical Treatment (Dunlop, Alstead and Macgregor), and by the part he played in the development of the National Formulary and the Prescribers Journal, which strongly influenced therapeutic practice in Britain. As Chairman of the Standing Committee on the Classification of Proprietary Preparations, he tackled a mammoth and challenging task which illustrates the spirit of the man. His objective was to subject drug therapy to scientific evaluation and, however controversial the conclusions, to make them widely known. His own most original work was concerned with the development of isotope studies in the interpretation and treatment of thyroid disorders. His contributions to medicine were provocative, disturbing and healthily sceptical.

Alastair was a man of exuberant physical and mental vigour. His whole career was characterised by driving energy and enthusiasm in everything he did. A man of high principle and integrity, he never dissembled and was not afraid to express and support firmly held opinions. As a friend his loyalty was enhanced by a strong critical faculty, which was the more readily expressed because of the underlying friendship. He was a man of considerable courage, and this was revealed most strongly in the way he faced his own physical handicaps. Coarctation of the aorta had been recognised early in his student career, before surgical treatment had been developed, and his immediate family responsibilities coupled with the total absence of symptoms made him decline operation when this was first suggested in his late thirties. He was well aware of the longterm prognosis and there was a glorious defiance in the vigour of his Scottish country dancing and the energy he put into his social as well as his professional life.

Few of those who knew Alastair can have suspected the increasing difficulties he experienced as a result of recurrent cerebral emboli from a calcified plaque of left ventricular endocardium during the last seven years of his life. Indeed, it was only the extent of brain damage and resultant Parkinsonism during the final year of his illness which, by frustrating his plans for Aberdeen and Pharmaceutics, prevented his difficulties from being obscured by the spontaneous gaiety and joyous vigour which were such intrinsic parts of his character. He had a great sense of social responsibility, a puckish wit and the quality of being readily approachable by those in need. Many could testify to countless kindnesses to friends, colleagues, students and, not least, patients. Twenty years after he left Edinburgh patients were still referring affectionately to the "twinkle in his eye".

Alastair’s very active professional life did not in any way mean that his life was circumscribed. He kept abreast of current events, loved the theatre and had a supremely happy marriage and family life. He was a simple, gentle man who gave of himself generously and with tremendous sparkle. He communicated easily with young and old alike, he was a wonderful father and his children’s later achievements - his oldest son as a BBC producer, a son and daughter qualified in medicine, a son qualified in law; and all three young children married to doctors actively engaged in clinical practice - would have given him immense pleasure.

Alastair’s wife, Janet Elizabeth, MD, the daughter of Andrew Macpherson, DSO, JP, insurance company secretary in Glasgow, survived him. They had been in the same year at university. Theirs had been a student romance and they married soon after graduation. His wife remained active in medicine and became internationally recognised as an expert cytologist.

It is not surprising that Alastair made so many strong and lasting friendships, or that he remained so much missed by so many long after his premature death.

RM Marquis

[Brit.med.J., 1972, 2, 718; Lancet, 1972, 1, 1348-9; Glasgow Herald, 8 June 1972]

(Volume VI, page 311)

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