Lives of the fellows

James Colquhoun Petrie

b.8 September 1941 d.31 August 2001
CBE(1996) MB ChB Aberd(1964) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1980) MRCP Edin(1981) FRCP Edin(1983) FFPM(1989) Hon FRCGP(1998) FRCPI(1996) Hon FCMSA(1998) Hon FAMS(1998) FMedSci(1998) FFPHM(1999) FRACP(1999) FRCPS(1999)

Jim Petrie completed his three year tenure as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on 28th February 2001 and immediately set off with his family on their customary annual skiing holiday in France. Within a few days he had developed symptoms of the illness that was to result in his premature death exactly six months later, depriving Scottish medicine of one of its most dynamic and effective leaders.

Jim's leadership qualities emerged during his undergraduate days in Aberdeen where he became president of the Athletic Association, while distinguishing himself at hockey, but more particularly skiing, for which he was awarded a full blue. After house jobs in Perth and Aberdeen he proceeded MRCP through London in 1968, a strategy seldom attempted by Scottish doctors at that time. He was appointed senior lecturer in materia medica at the University of Aberdeen in 1971, and honorary consultant physician to the Grampian Health Board at the age of 29 - at that time the youngest in Scotland. His precocious talent and restless energy helped him establish a very active clinical pharmacology unit specializing in research on hypertension and cardiovascular drug action. This interest in optimal drug use led on to developments in medical informatics and health services that were to be the main themes of his later career.

Jim had vision but was not a dreamer: pinned above his desk at work was the aphorism 'Do it now and then it's done'. During this phase he combined an active role as general physician, with those as teacher and researcher in a workload of formidable breath and intensity. He was promoted to a personal chair in clinical pharmacology in 1985 and became head of the combined department of medicine and therapeutics in Aberdeen in 1994. During this time he published and edited extensively (over 200 publications).

He was founder and co-director of the health services research unit from 1986, and served on a multitude of committees, for Aberdeen University, the Grampian Health Board, the National Health Service for Scotland, and on the Committee for Safety of Medicines, where he was co-vice chairman at the time of his death. He established an important role as advisor to the World Health Organization, travelling far and wide to promote safe and rational drug use. Throughout this time he made a full contribution to emergency and outpatient clinical duties, with particular expertise in the management of hypertension. He was awarded the CBE for service to medicine in 1996.

It was with his election as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh that his career moved into its most productive phase. Not content with fulfilling the usual executive and ambassadorial roles of president, which he did with great skill, enthusiasm and charm, he vigorously promoted the activities of the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), which he had earlier helped to establish. At the time of his death it had become a model and source of authoritative clinical advice recognised both nationally and internationally. He considered this his main professional testament. In all things he did he maintained an international perspective. His travels, with the College, with the Council of Europe, and with WHO, to which he had a particular affinity, were reflected by honorary fellowships in Australasia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the United States. He played a key role in establishing links among the UK Royal Colleges, was member of the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties, and chairman of the Federation of UK Colleges of Physicians from 2000.

In parallel with these activities, he had a rich and fulfilling family life with his wife Xanthe, a contemporary graduate in medicine whom he married in 1964, their four children, all medical graduates of Edinburgh, and their six grandchildren. Their family life was cemented by, among other interests, a love of skiing, which Jim translated into a major local initiative in the formation of the Lecht Ski Company, of which he was chairman and founding co-director from 1976. Few things gave him greater pleasure than to see the regeneration of upper Strathdon that resulted from the developments at Lecht, where he took equal delight in skiing in crisp powder under clear Scottish skies (occasionally), and checking the lift passes of the thousands of families introduced to the sport on their doorstep.

To be cut down in his prime by glioblastoma came as a cruel and untimely blow.

J Webster

[Proc.R.Co.Physicians.Edinb. 2001:31:368; The Times 20 Sept 2001; The Independent 11 Sept 2001; College Commentary Sept/Oct 2001; Hospital Doctor 27 Sept 2001]

(Volume XI, page 453)

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