Lives of the fellows

John Harold Dundee Millar

b.29 May 1917 d.16 September 1992
MB BCh BAO Belf(1940) MD(1946) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1963)

Harold Millar was born in Belfast, the eldest son of Samuel Dundee Millar, manufacturer and company director, and his wife Maud Lindsay Clark, daughter of John Clark, company director. He was educated at Elm Park Preparatory School and Campbell College, Belfast, and studied medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast. After qualifying, he became house physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and then house surgeon at Plymouth General Hospital - where he experienced the ‘blitz’ of the Navy base. He had three brothers and one sister and, like all his brothers, he volunteered for HM Forces in 1941. He served as surgeon lieutenant in the RNVR until 1946, in minesweepers and destroyers in the Atlantic, in Arctic convoys and in the Far East. Shortly before he died he received a campaign medal from the Soviet government in recognition of his services; this both pleased and amused him for all his life he carried with him the memory of harrowing experiences on the Murmansk convoys.

After the war, he returned to Belfast to pursue postgraduate education. He quickly obtained both his MD and membership of the College. As a registrar at the Royal Victoria Hospital he became interested in neurology and went to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London, as a supernumerary registrar from 1947-48. In 1950 he married Sheila, a dedicated nurse and daughter of Robert Hugh Clay, regional director of the Post Office in Northern Ireland. They had three sons and two daughters, of whom one son and one daughter are doctors.

In 1952 Harold was appointed consultant neurologist to the Royal Victoria Hospital and Claremont Street Hospital for Nervous Diseases. He was also visiting neurologist to the Belfast City Hospital; Thompson House - for the long term disabled - Lisburn; Killowen Hospital for Epilepsy, Lisburn; Tyrone County General Hospital and Omagh and the Erne Hospital, Enniskillen - a heavy and widespread commitment. He was the senior neurologist in Belfast for over 25 years. Of all his many clinical attachments he was particularly fond of his work at Claremont Street. This hospital was unique in having a special relationship with the National Hospital, Queen Square, London. The link was particularly strong in the nursing service; the matron of Queen Square was also matron of Claremont Street and despite the distance visited Belfast regularly. Harold enjoyed his work at Claremont Street in a warm, friendly and efficient atmosphere with nursing of a high standard. He was therefore very upset when Claremont Street was summarily closed in a recent Health Service reorganization.

Harold Millar was a gifted clinical neurologist who enhanced the reputation of neurology in Northern Ireland by his skill in diagnosis and his ceaseless search for solutions to problems. At the same time, he felt that specialists should not lose touch with general medicine. His holistic approach was apparent in various papers with general medical facets, in addition to his many contributions to the neurological literature. The latter reflected his passionate interest in multiple sclerosis which remained with him until he died. Between 1948 and 1952 he carried out an epidemiological survey of MS in Northern Ireland with Sidney Allison. This was one of the first studies of its kind to be performed anywhere and was regarded as a model. He founded a register of MS in Northern Ireland which he maintained and which was the foundation for subsequent studies. In 1971 he was invited to write the monograph on MS in the American Lecture Series, published by C C Thomas in Springfield, Illinois. To this he gave the sub-title ‘A disease acquired in childhood’. This arose out of the interest, at that time, in the effects of measles vaccination and subacute sclerosing pan-encephalitis. He produced papers on platelet stickiness in cerebrovascular disease in diabetes; on the neurological manifestations of systemic carcinoma, amino-aciduria, and the EEG in epilepsy, subarachnoid haemorrhage and cerebral tumours.

In 1956, with colleagues, he described - for the first time in Britain -a family with Ref sum’s disease; a rare autosomal recessive enzyme defect resulting in failure to metabolise phytanic acid, presenting clinically with a mixed polyneuropathy and accumulation of phytanic acid in blood and tissues m the classical manner of metabolic gene defects.

In 1977 he was appointed honorary reader in neurology at Queen's University. He was a benign teacher who preferred to guide by example. At academic meetings he was less benign and did not hesitate to pursue a debatable point with logic and vigour. He was elected president of the Association of British Neurologists, 1977-79.

Harold Millar was a modest man who did not tolerate pretension. He had a warm, outgoing personality with a great sense of humour. He was gregarious, a generous host, a fisherman and a former captain of the Royal Belfast Golf Club. When he retired from the NHS in 1982 he kept up his active interest in research on MS and, although his health was deteriorating, continued as always to live life to the full at his farm in the County Down countryside. At all times he was supported by his wife Sheila - his constant companion - and together they continued visiting MS patients in their homes, as well as holding annual tea parties, fund-raising barbecues and barn dances. He was the assessor in Northern Ireland for the supply of ‘Possums' to the severely paralysed. In this onerous task, as in all his work, he showed deep humanity.

T G Milliken

(Volume IX, page 362)

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