Lives of the fellows

John Alexander Milne

b.19 February 1920 d.21 July 1977
MB ChB Glas(1944) MRCP(1947) MRCPE(1962) MRCPG(1962) FRCPE(1965) FRCPG(1965) MRCPath(1966) FRCP(1968)

John Milne was the son of Colin Milne, journalist and drama critic, and his wife Isabella Hunter. He was born in Gourock, Scotland, educated at Greenock Academy, and received his medical education at the University of Glasgow. His undergraduate career foretold the distinction to which he later rose, and he graduated in 1944.

His original intention was to be a physician and he held clinical posts with Sir John McNee and Laurance Scott, but in 1945 he joined the department of bacteriology at the Western Infirmary where, as a McCunn medical research scholar he came under the influence of Carl Browning. In 1946 he became lecturer in pathology under DF Cappell. These two men greatly influenced his life; beginning as his teachers, they later became his close friends. It was they who first demonstrated to him the delights and intellectual excitements of microscopy. From his earliest days in pathology he became interested in the skin and, realizing that expertise could only grow more effective in conjunction with the clinical examination of patients, obtained the membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1947.

In 1951 he was awarded a Carnegie travelling fellowship to the United States and during his time there he formed a life-long friendship with Hermann Pinkus and Hamilton Montgomery, two of the most distinguished dermatopathologists in the world. In 1953 he was appointed as consultant pathologist in charge of the Area Laboratory Service in Ayrshire. He accepted an invitation to return to the Western Infirmary and the University of Glasgow in 1960, as reader in dermatology, and became its first professor of dermatology in 1968.

At Anderson College (Glasgow University) he planned and supervised the development of an ever-expanding department of diagnostic and research pathology in relation to dermatology; his laboratories gave opportunities to numerous men and women, many of whom have since become eminent in their own fields. He attracted trainees and specialists alike, from all over the world, who came for days, weeks or months, to benefit from study of the varied collection of a life’s experience in the histopathology of the skin. Within the University of Glasgow he became known as a man whose counsel was valued highly by staff at all levels and in many faculties, extending far beyond medical advice, and he became acknowledged as one of the ‘pillars of wisdom’ of the campus.

Nevertheless, he remained to the end a ‘plain’ man of many simple graces but no airs whatever, intolerant of pomposity and always made uncomfortable by the limelight which inevitably fell upon him. He never overcame his natural shyness, though this was never obvious, and indeed incomprehensible to those who knew his skill as a lecturer. He displayed great patience in his personal teaching at the microscope, and never felt any task too irksome or menial.

John Milne was past president of the Scottish Dermatological Society, had served a term as member of council of the British Association of Dermatologists, and for 14 years - with his secretary-discharged the task of indexing the British Journal of Dermatology. He was also a member of the MRC Dermatology Research Review Committee. In 1972 his book on the histopathology of the skin was published and is now accepted as a standard reference book used by trainees and consultants alike, whether dermatologists or pathologists. He received numerous invitations to teach abroad and during visits to Poland and Hungary had conferred upon him honorary membership of the Polish and Hungarian Dermatological Societies. At the time of his death he was looking forward to visiting Australia, with his wife Margaret, for a tour as Essex visiting professor.

He remained a Scot and it was in Scotland that he found his greatest joys. His humour was essentially that of a Scot, and his favourite pastimes were fishing in the lochs and rivers, and photography. He married Gertrude Margaret Cram in 1946 and his source of inspiration and refreshment was his home life. Hospitality at his home was invariably a pleasure both in anticipation and recollection. To say that conversation there was stimulating is an understatement; there was never animosity in argument and always a feeling of good fellowship. John enjoyed good food, good wine and good company. He was a man of amazing surprises and contradictions; deriving special pleasure from jazz music, in particular that of Duke Ellington, whose last concert in Glasgow he attended, and from his love of art, more especially that of Russell Flint.

Although a world expert on dermatology and much in demand as a speaker at international meetings, and as a lecturer at medical schools throughout the world, John Milne will be best remembered in Ayrshire and Glasgow for his kindliness, his keen sense of humour and wide range of interests.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Brit.J.Derm., 1977, 97, 577; Times, 29 July 1977]

(Volume VII, page 400)

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