Lives of the fellows

John Basil Rennie

b.23 July 1904 d.27 November 1996
MB ChB Glasg(1927) FRFPS(1932) MD(1935) MRCP(1940) FRCP(1951) FRCP Glasg(1962)

Basil Rennie’s professional life was one of distinguished service to the Glasgow Medical School and to three of its teaching hospitals. At different stages his career encompassed paediatrics, general medicine and the developing specialty of nephrology, but whatever he undertook he did well, earning the respect of many patients and colleagues.

He was educated at Glasgow Academy and at the University of Glasgow, where his father, William Rennie, occupied consecutively the chairs of humanity and Greek. After graduating in 1927 he had further training in house officer posts before becoming an assistant physician at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. At this time he acquired a special interest in nephritis in infancy and childhood, the subject of his MD thesis in 1935, which was awarded honours and a Bellahouston gold medal. This led to his appointment as the first full-time lecturer in the practice of medicine at the University, to assist Sir John McNee [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.317], who had just been installed as the first full time occupant of the Regius chair. A year later a new research building, the Gardiner Institute of Medicine at the Western Infirmary, was built and added to the department.

During the war years the professor was frequently absent owing to his duties as consultant to the Royal Navy. Residual paresis of one leg from poliomyelitis at an early age debarred Rennie from military service, and as senior lecturer he therefore had additional clinical and teaching commitments as well as responsibility for the laboratories and beds in the Gardiner Institute. This did not prevent him from continuing his own research, which included studies of liver function tests and of acute hepatitis, as well as a detailed account of the natural history and prognosis of the nephrotic syndrome. Those who had worked in junior posts in the department spoke highly of his helpfulness and encouragement during these difficult times.

The period after the war allowed considerable expansion of the department and growth of its research output, to which Basil Rennie contributed in collaborative studies on nephrolithiasis, short oesophagus (hiatus hernia), subacute bacterial endocarditis and treatment of collagen diseases. He wrote the section on nephritis for the sixth edition of the Textbook of medical treatment edited by Dunlop, Davidson and McNee (Edinburgh and London, E&S Livingstone, 1953).

In 1950 he took charge of medical wards in Stobhill Hospital, where his administrative skill helped in the reorganization which followed the inception of the National Health Service, enabling it to develop its role as one of the major teaching hospitals in the city. Glasgow medical graduates and postgraduates from many countries can recall his clear and systematic teaching, his immaculate appearance and his quiet dignity at the bedside.

Having maintained his active interest in renal diseases he shared the excitement brought by successful treatment of renal failure by haemodialysis. Even before dialysis facilities were available in Scotland he referred patients with acute renal failure to the nearest centre in Leeds. By 1964, when the European Dialysis and Transplant Association was founded, it was clear that dialysis treatment was also effective in chronic renal failure, so that rapid expansion of appropriate facilities was required. Rennie served on the medical advisory committee which guided the hospital board for the West of Scotland region about such new developments and he contributed to the planning of dialysis programmes in Edinburgh and London. With characteristic scrupulous attention to detail he planned the renal unit and the dialysis service at Stobhill Hospital. This was established in January 1968 and remains a tangible memorial to his work.

Although his administrative, clinical and teaching commitments left little time for personal research during the years at Stobhill, he was able to publish further studies on the treatment of nephrotic syndrome and to collaborate in a significant contribution to the pathogenesis of renal anaemia. He derived some satisfaction from the fact that in each of the two years prior to his retirement in 1969 presentations from his newly opened renal unit were included in the annual scientific meetings of the European Dialysis and Transplant Association.

It was not only in renal medicine that his reputation flourished; general practitioners also valued his advice in consultations. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and an examiner for the MRCP and University final examinations, as well as an ex-president of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow and a member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland, the Renal Association, the European Dialysis and Transplant Association and the Scottish Society for Experimental Medicine.

Despite his mild disability he enjoyed sport - tennis, cricket, bowling and hill-walking - and as a former vice-president of the recreation clubs of his old school and university he was an enthusiastic rugby supporter. He had many happy holidays in the quieter parts of Scotland, in locations such as Tomintoul and Tobermory. His reading tastes were wide, but he found special pleasure in classical literature. As an elder of the Church of Scotland he drew inspiration from his faith. In later years his health declined due to motor neuron disease, but news of the activities of his family brought him solace. His wife Beryl was his loving companion for 54 years. They had three daughters.

Alasdair I Macdougall

[The Glasgow Herald, 7 Dec 1996; Brit.med.J., 1997,314,379]

(Volume X, page 410)

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