Lives of the fellows

Charles George (Sir) McDonald

b.25 March 1892 d.23 April 1970
CBE(1951) Kt(1962) KBE(1970) KCSG(1960) MB ChM Sydney(1916) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1965)

Charles McDonald, one of the ten children of William and Mary (née Slattery) McDonald, was born at Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, where his father was a hotel proprietor. His parents later moved to Singleton, New South Wales, where he received his early schooling. Subsequently, ‘obsessed with education’ as he remarked, they settled in Sydney to achieve this for their family, of whom three qualified in medicine, three in law, and one in pharmacy. Here he attended the Sydney High School, proceeding to the Sydney Medical School in 1911. He graduated in 1916 and began a long and distinguished association with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the senior Sydney teaching hospital, to which he was appointed junior resident medical officer in 1916, registrar in 1917, honorary assistant physician in 1920, honorary physician in 1933, and consultant physician in 1952.

In 1917 he joined the Australian Army Medical Corps and was posted to the 4th Australian General Hospital where, despite repeated appeals for overseas service, he remained to the end of the war in charge of a tuberculous section, an experience leading to an intense interest in chest diseases and to association with numerous societies and institutions concerned with these. He later entered consultant practice in Sydney, and in addition to his duties at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, held at various times a multiplicity of posts in other institutions. He was a member of the New South Wales Medical Board (1946-62), Chairman of the Australian Rheumatism Council, and a trustee of the State Library of New South Wales. In the second world war, he again joined the Australian Army Medical Corps as lieutenant-colonel in the 2/6 Australian General Hospital, serving in Palestine, in Greece and Crete as the German attack swept through, and later in Australia.

He was an active member of the Association of Physicians of Australasia, a select group of honorary physicians of teaching hospitals from which, in 1938, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians arose. He was a foundation fellow of the College, member of its first council and executive committee, and served it for the succeeding 28 years. He was honorary secretary (1944-8), vice-president (1948-50), censor-in-chief (1950-4), president (1954-6), and chairman of the editorial committee of the Australian Annals of Medicine (1957-66). The University of Sydney, also, received long years of his devoted service, during which he was lecturer in clinical medicine (1938-52), a fellow of Senate for some 28 years, deputy chancellor (1953-4), and chancellor from 1964 to his death in 1970.

Charles McDonald was a gifted physician and an outstanding clinical teacher whose enthusiasm, clarity of thought, exactness of expression and wit impressed a generation of his students. He was of vivid personality, strong character and imposing presence, and was invariably courteous. His notable leadership was marked by administrative ability, tenacity of purpose and forthright expression of opinion. He was fluent of speech, rising to ringing oratory on ceremonial occasions, and skilled and combative in debate, sparing no criticism. As with many forceful personalities, he did not lack critics and antagonists, an aftermath, perhaps, of wordy battles of past days. He was a book lover, deeply read in classical literature, history and philosophy, and from retentive memory could quote passages, it appeared, for all occasions. He was a distinguished member of the Catholic Church and received the honour of papal knighthood. He was ecumenical in outlook long before that word became fashionable.

In 1919 he married Elsie Isabel Hosie and they had four sons, Geoffrey, John, Phillip and Charles - the first-named two of whom are doctors - and one daughter, Molly.

HM Rennie

[Med.J.Aust., 1970, 2, 750 (photo); Lancet, 1970, 1, 1008; Brit.med.J., 1970, 2, 302; portrait (William Dargie) at University of Sydney]

(Volume VI, page 305)

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