Lives of the fellows

Robert (Sir) Muir

b.5 July 1864 d.30 March 1959
Kt(1934) MA Edin(1884) MB CM Edin(1888) MD Edin(1890) Hon LLD Edin(1925) Hon DSc Bristol(1934) Hon DSc Leeds(1934) Hon DCL Durh(1934) Hon LLD Glasg(1937) Hon ScD Dubl(1912) FRCPE(1895) FRFPS(1901) FRS(1911) *FRCP(1935) Hon FRFPS(1930) Hon FRCPE(1953)

When Robert Muir was appointed first professor of pathology at St. Andrews, and then successor to Joseph Coats at Glasgow, the professoriate of the Scottish Universities was still hedged about by a divinity from below and a rigid formality from above. With his simple tastes and shy manner he could not understand why he appeared distant to his students, but long before Meakins at Edinburgh profited from the breakdown of these barriers by students returning from war service in 1919, Professor Robert Muir had become ‘Bobby’ to a succession of admiring and affectionate undergraduates.

He was the son of the Rev. Robert Muir, M.A.,the Presbyterian minister of Balfron in Stirlingshire, and Susan Cameron, daughter of William Duncan, a merchant in Dundee. After a brilliant school and university career he had qualified M.A. and M.D. (honours and gold medal) by the age of twenty-four. His first appointment was as assistant in the department of clinical medicine and pathology at his own medical school, where he was to hold the chair of pathology for thirty-eight years.

He never lost interest in his early researches on bone marrow and blood, writing numerous papers on such aspects as intravascular haemolysis, iron absorption and haemachromatosis, and the local formation of blood pigments in the tissues. He was nevertheless one of the greatest general pathologists of his day, producing standard textbooks on morbid anatomy, histology and bacteriology.

The work which probably added most to his reputation was on the immunity reactions and more especially the anti-body-complement mechanism; it brought him the fellowship of the Royal Society and a Royal medal. Equally important, however, were his contributions on bactericidal action, haemolytic action, opsonic action and tropins. Under him the Glasgow School of Pathology came to have a high reputation as a training centre for distinguished workers, each chosen by his discerning eye for ability which was brought to its best output by his sound and kindly teaching and his unselfish direction.

Outside the University Muir did as much as within it to advance our knowledge of medicine; for varying periods he served on the council of the Royal Society, on the Medical Research Council and on committees of the British Empire Cancer Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. He was also chairman of the first Foot and Mouth Disease Committee and of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Department of Health for Scotland, and he played a leading part in the foundation of the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was a good golfer and an expert fisherman; at ninety-one he caught a salmon on the fly at Islay.

It is little wonder that he collected a profusion of academic honours. In 1935, the year after his knighthood, he was elected a Fellow of the College, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England presented him with their Lister medal. Twenty-four years later he died, aged ninety-five. He was unmarried.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1959, 5, 149-73 (p), bibl.; Brit.med.J., 1959, 1, 976-7 (p), 1050-51; Glasgow Herald, 31 Mar. 1959; Lancet, 1959, 1, 789-90 (p); Nature {Lond.), 1959, 183, 1363-4; Scot. med. J., 1959, 4, 210-11; Times, 1 Apr. 1959 (p).]

(Volume V, page 298)

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