Lives of the fellows

Robert Semple

b.21 June 1917 d.5 March 1988
MB ChB Aberd(1939) MRCP(1946) MD(1952) FRCP(1964) FRCPE(1979)

Robert Semple was born in Aberdeen, the son of Robert Semple, a general practitioner in the city and his wife Flora Mackenzie Ferguson, daughter of a civil servant. He was the eldest of six children. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, where he graduated with first class honours. He won several gold medals and was first in his year. He was also an all round sportsman who gained a blue in golf, and was a member of the OTC. But the only distinction of which he spoke was that of passing his driving test in his father’s Rolls Royce.

After a house physician post at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, he joined the RAMC and served from 1939-46. After a spell as RMO to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Stirling Castle, he was posted to the Gold Coast Regiment, serving with the 37th General Hospital at Accra, and later as medical officer to GHQ, West African Command. His next move was to Middle East Command where he became medical officer to a mountain artillery unit which, after training in the Lebanon, moved to Italy - complete with mule train - as part of the 8th Army. In 1944 he became a graded medical specialist in Italy and, later, in the United Kingdom.

After demobilization Robert was appointed registrar in medicine and pathology in Aberdeen, and obtained his membership of the College at his first attempt. In 1947 he was appointed second assistant, then first assistant in 1951, to the medical professorial unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, and he was also a clinical assistant at the Brompton Hospital. He always maintained that his appointment to the Middlesex was due to his low golf handicap!

Robert could have continued in academic medicine but preferred, and was ideally suited to, the life of a general physician in the NHS. He also felt the call back to his native land and in 1952 he became consultant physician to Maryfield Hospital, Dundee, and to Stracathro Hospital, Angus. In 1974 he transferred to the new Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, and for a period served as chairman of its medical division.

His outstanding clinical skill and experience, and his acute mind, quickly established him as a highly esteemed consultant in eastern Scotland. He was tall and had a distinguished presence and natural authority which, together with his courteous manner, inspired trust and confidence in his patients. His dedication and compassion brought him warm affection. By his colleagues he was greatly respected as giving a first class opinion in difficult cases; to many of them he was a comforting support in personal illness.

Robert was involved in undergraduate teaching as honorary senior lecturer in medicine in the University of St Andrews (later of Dundee) and was very firm in ensuring a systematic groundwork in clinical examinations. He shared also in postgraduate training, and was noted at clinical meetings for his shrewd and perceptive comments. His years at Maryfield Hospital, in joint charge of a clinical teaching unit, were among his happiest, though when Ninewells Hospital opened he was delighted by his warm reception and respected status as senior physician in the medical professorial unit.

Robert lived a full and happy life. He was active in local professional organizations and was, at different times, president of Dundee Medical Club and of the Forfarshire Medical Association, and captain of Dundee Medical Golfing Society. Though essentially a private man he had a natural friendliness and ease of manner, and he had a wide circle of friends. He was a skilled fly-fisher, a good shot, and a knowledgeable gardener. But his chief recreation was golf, and he was certainly a fine player. He was a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and. a winner of perhaps its most difficult trophy, the Calcutta Cup. He continued to find pleasure and solace on his beloved Old Course up to the last few months of his life.

Robert showed remarkable courage and dignity in his last illness. He was determined to carry on his usual interests and activities for as long as possible and did so with grace, humour, and consideration for others. He was greatly blessed by the loving support of his wife, Alison, whom he had married in 1943, herself a doctor from a distinguished medical family her father was John Cruickshank, a professor of bacteriology; together with the support of their son Peter, a consultant physician in Glasgow, and their daughters Hilary and Rosemary.

JS Frew
RN Johnston
D Emslie-Smith

[Brit.med.J., 1988,296,1203]

(Volume VIII, page 450)

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