"b.17 Dec 1887 d.26 Jan 1984
Kt( 1951) DSO(1918) MB ChB Glas(1909) MD(1914) DSc(1920) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1925) FRFPS Glas(1938) LLD Glas(1954) FRSE(1939) Hon MD NUI(1954) Hon FRFPS Glas(1954) LLD Toronto(1955)"
Born at Mount Vernon, Lanarkshire, John William was the only son of John McNee of Glasgow and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Little is known of his family background; the death of a sister in 1939 from streptococcal septicaemia is noted in his correspondence. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and at Glasgow University, where he qualified in medicine with honours. After graduation he held appointments as lecturer in pathology under Sir Robert Muir [Munk’s Roll,Vol.V,p.298], and as assistant to the regius professor of the practice of medicine in Glasgow. Awarded a McCunn scholarship in 1911 and a Carnegie research fellowship in 1912, he went to Freiburg where, under the direction of Aschoff he worked on the aetiological classification of jaundice and the role of the reticuloendothelial system in the metabolism of bile. In 1914 he obtained his doctorate with honours, and the John Hunter and Bellahouston gold medals.
During the first world war he served in the RAMC, attaining the rank of major and acting as asistant adviser in pathology to the First Army in France. He undertook important clinical and pathological studies on trench fever and gas gangrene with J Shaw Dunn; on war nephritis; and on chlorine poisoning - in which he carried out one of the first, if not the first, autopsy on poison gassed soldiers in France. His work pointed the way to more effective preventive and therapeutic measures for ameliorating conditions among the troops. For his war services he was awarded the DSO, mentioned in despatches, and in 1920 was made a commander of the Portuguese Military Order of Avis.
Having obtained his DSc, he moved to London where the new medical unit had been established at University College Hospital under the direction of T R Elliott [Munk's Roll,Vol.V,p. 119]. It caused some surprise that the two first assistants appointed were McNee, regarded essentially as a pathologist, and F M R Walshe, a neurologist, later Sir Francis [Munk's Roll,Vol.VI,p.448]. The latter soon moved away into consulting practice, but McNee remained, to continue his research on diseases of the liver and the gall bladder for which his training in pathology had provided a sound basic scientific background. His considerable skills as a physician and a teacher soon became apparent. In 1924 he obtained a Rockefeller fellowship and went to Johns Hopkins as an associate professor, at a time when the syndrome of coronary artery thrombosis was being defined. On his return he published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 1925, the first description in Britain of this condition, with the encouragement of Elliott and Sir Thomas Lewis [Munk's Roll,Vol.IV,p.531]. At this time he elected to abandon a purely academic life and moved into full-time consulting practice, while remaining a physician to UCH. His reputation as a sound and sympathetic clinician brought rapid success and his advice was widely sought, especially on difficult cases of liver and biliary tract disorders. He was called upon to give prestigious lectures by Royal Colleges and learned societies, and further consolidated his reputation by the publication, jointly with Sir Humphrey Rolleston [Munk's Roll,Vol.IV,p.373], of the classical textbook Diseases of the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, London, Macmillan & Co., 3rd ed. 1929. It appeared that his future in London was secure and permanent.
But, in the middle 1930s, the regius chair of the practice of medicine in Glasgow fell vacant and McNee was invited to accept it. Locally there was some resentment that the post should not be filled by a distinguished Glaswegian physician. Moreover, in Glasgow McNee was remembered, even respected, as a pathologist rather than a clinician. McNee himself had two reservations: firstly, he would wish, if he moved north, to keep an option open to continue private consulting practice and, secondly, he insisted that he should be given an institute in which he could"
(Volume VIII, page 317)
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