Lives of the fellows

Colin McCance

b.9 December 1924 d.24 May 1996
MB BChir Cantab(1949) MRCP(1955) DPM(1961) MRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1974) FRCPsych(1979)

Colin McCance served with distinction as a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital and Ross Clinic, Aberdeen, and as clinical senior lecturer in psychiatry, University of Aberdeen. Educated at Marlborough, Colin McCance’s pedigree propelled him almost inevitably towards a career in medicine. His father, R A McCance [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.327], one of Britain’s leading medical scientists, was professor of experimental medicine at Cambridge and his grandfather, D O MacGregor, had been the greatly respected medical superintendent of the Victoria, Glasgow. It was on the rugby field, however, that the youthful McCance first made his mark. He played scrum-half for Cambridge University and in 1946 was a Scottish trialist at Murrayfield.

After graduation and two house jobs at St Thomas’s Colin McCance worked for the eminent neurosurgeon Sir Wylie McKissock. This experience gave him an enduring interest in neurology and after National Service with the RAF led to posts in clinical pathology at St Thomas’s and later a registrarship with the revered neurologist J St C Elkington [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.116] and with Will Sargant [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.434], the charismatic but controversial senior psychiatrist at St Thomas’s. Although armed by then with the London membership the prospects in clinical neurology were dismal and so Colin McCance left hospital and academic life for two years and entered general practice in Norfolk. He enjoyed this interlude and looked back on it with affection, but the call of the teaching round and the stimulus of the academic group proved too strong. He joined the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, fell under the spell of the great Sir Aubrey Lewis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p284] and so embarked upon a rich and rewarding life’s work in the field of psychiatry.

The almost simultaneous arrival in Aberdeen of Colin McCance and of a man who was to become his great friend and colleague, Cecil Kidd, as senior lecturer, gave Malcolm Miller the opportunity to broaden postgraduate teaching in psychiatry in Aberdeen. The young registrars and lecturers of that era had much to be grateful for. The Wednesday evening research club, the special problems conference and the countless tutorials and seminars given by these three laid the foundations for many careers in both the academic and health service arenas. The emphasis was on clear thinking, crisp presentation and sound homework. But humour, such a vital ingredient in clinical psychiatry and in its teaching, was never far away.

Throughout the 1960s, and in collaboration with his wife Fanny, also a consultant psychiatrist, the McCances conducted research into both the epidemiology and treatment of alcohol dependence. It is a testimony to the quality of this early work that it remained on the College ‘reading list’ for the membership examination for more than twenty years. Colin McCance produced a steady stream of publications in psychiatric epidemiology and many a registrar was grateful for training in research methodology and for the opportunity to appear as a co-author. Twice chairman of the division of psychiatry, clinical director of the University departments’ psychiatric case register, long serving assessor for the British Journal of Psychiatry, Colin McCance looked back on a four year spell as a member of the MRC neuroscience grant’s committee in the 1970s as one of the most stimulating and challenging tasks he had undertaken.

Aberdeen’s Royal Cornhill Hospital, where Colin McCance was to make such an impression over almost quarter of a century, was, when he arrived as a young consultant in 1962, a large institution by Scottish standards. It was presided over by a God-fearing and devoted, but necessarily authoritarian, physician superintendent whose tiny medical staff and largely untrained nursing staff were overworked and quite unprepared for the liberalization in psychiatric care envisaged in the 1960 Mental Health Act. Usually with diplomacy, but at other times head-on, Colin McCance helped to fashion down the years not simply a modern hospital but a well-staffed, responsive service for North East Scotland. By the time he retired, a forensic unit, an adolescent unit, a NHS psychotherapy service and an integrated clinical psychology service were all up and running, complementing a catchment area based general adult service, together with peripheral out-patient clinics in GPs surgeries and an embryonic domiciliary nursing service for both discharged psychiatric patients and the demented elderly. Colin McCance's views were balanced, always informed by sound epidemiological data and presented with clarity and persuasion. So he proved to be a powerful advocate for the mentally ill in the North of Scotland and a champion of his colleagues in the small subspecialties whose aspirations could so easily have been over-looked. He enjoyed excellent relations with both GPs and general hospital colleagues throughout the region because of his acumen and accessibility as a clinician and because of his courtesy and consideration in committee.

Colin McCance followed his own advice and decided to retire whilst in full vigour and with many ambitions yet to fulfil. A countryman in all senses he was able to enjoy more shooting, fishing and walking, his main pastimes and relaxations. Above all he was able to spend more time with his beloved daughter and sons - of whom he was so justly proud, and with his growing band of grandchildren. His son, Alastair, is a consultant cardiologist, a third generation Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, while his daughter Janet is a GP and sons Bill and Jamie are in veterinary practice. He and his wife Fanny travelled extensively to visit family and friends around the world, but Deeside and Speyside with their wild moors and great salmon rives were never far from his thoughts.

Colin is remembered by his many friends with the greatest fondness. His infectious enthusiasm for any undertaking - whether at work or play - was one of his most endearing characteristics and he never lost his sense of wonder and delight at mother nature’s infinite variety. He was a total stranger to cynicism - here was a man of complete sincerity, utter integrity and of unswerving loyalty to family and friends and to his profession. He died following a lengthy illness which he bore with characteristic courage, humour and dignity.

A Q Gardiner

[Brit.med.J., 1996,313,1202]

(Volume X, page 312)

<< Back to List