Lives of the fellows

William Ferguson (Sir) Anderson

b.8 April 1914 d.28 June 2001
Kt(1974) OBE(1961) MB ChB Glasg(1936) FRFPS(1939) MD(1942) MRCP(1948) MRCPEdin(1961) FCRP Glasg(1962) FRCPEdin(1963) FRCP(1964) FRCPI(1975) FRCPC(1976) FACP(1980)

Universally known as 'Fergie', Sir William Ferguson Anderson was perhaps the most influential figure in the history of geriatric medicine and the first man in the world to become a professor of geriatric medicine. He was an evangelist for his specialty and a supreme advocate for old people. Despite his international recognition, he spent all of his life, apart from war service and a short spell in Wales, in his native Glasgow.

Born the son of a military engineer officer, he was educated at Merchiston Castle School and Glasgow Academy of which he was top pupil. A most distinguished medical undergraduate with a 'Midas' touch he graduated MB ChB with honours from the University of Glasgow in 1936 and proceeded MD with honours and the Bellahouston gold medal (the premier MD thesis of the year) in 1942.

After house posts he served as assistant and later registrar to Noah Morris [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.297] in the university department of materia medica and therapeutics at Stobhill Hospital. He served in the army medical service in India and Germany for five years.

In 1946 he returned to Glasgow as senior lecturer in medicine and later served for a spell in a similar post in the Welsh School of Medicine.

Fergie had been inspired by Noah Morris and, later, Stanley Alstead [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.8] to follow a lifelong interest in the active management of the disorders of old age. In 1952 he became physician in charge of Foresthall, a former poorhouse, and had the rather grand title of adviser in disease of old age to the Scottish Western Regional Hospital Board.

He was a most sincere man and always very approachable. Fergie had the wonderful gift of making you feel important after every encounter. He was utterly convinced that the only way to promote the health care of older people was to make geriatric medicine an academic discipline and ensure undergraduate training in the subject. A masterful communicator, he had the signal ability to produce a standing ovation from any audience; even the battle-weary medical students. But he was a most determined man. He tenaciously pursued his aim of academic respectability for geriatric medicine and with his immense powers of persuasion he sold his ideas to the then chairman of Glasgow Old Peoples' Welfare Committee, Sir John Craik Henderson who by serendipity happened to be chaiman of a wealthy local charity. The Cargill Charitable Trust chose to fund the chair of geriatric medicine and a research unit at the University of Glasgow.

Fergie became the first professor in the clinical subject in the world in 1965. He often recalled that it was infinitely more difficult to persuade the university to accept the benefactor's funding than to actually raise the money.

A supreme educator, he firmly believed in preventative medicine and patient education and he was a pioneer in the field of pre-retirement training. He ran a drop in screening centre for older people in Rutherglen for decades with Nairn Cowan.

He fulfilled the role as international ambassador for geriatric medicine and was adviser to the World Health Organization on the medical care of older people from 1973 to 1979. He undertook visiting professorships to many centres in Canada, Denmark, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Yugoslavia, Japan, the USA and the USSR.

Showered with many distinctions he was awarded the OBE in 1961 and the St. Mungo prize of the City of Glasgow in 1967. He was knighted in 1974. Fergie served as president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow at a time of major National Health Service reforms and the Merrison Report (from 1974 to 1976) and as president of the BMA (from 1977 to 1978). He played a major role in the Scottish developments of the Abbeyfield Society, Marie Curie Care, Crossroads and Red Cross Housing for Younger Disabled People.

He described his own professional life as follows, "The rewards have been the delight of having a career which fulfilled my training as a general physician concentrating more on the individual as a person than on the chemical construction of the human animal. This was combined with the realisation of the intertwining of the physical, mental and social aspects of health and disease and the almost limitless teaching opportunities and the enthusiasm of so many young people anxious to learn".

In the decade after his official retirement in 1979 he completed a further two editions of his textbook Practical management of the elderly with Brian Williams (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific, 1983 [4th edition], 1989 [5th edition]). His creative energy and intensity hardly waned.

Fergie was always sartorially elegant, urbane and had a penchant for fast cars. He was a man with great charm and substance. He is survived by his wife Margaret, two daughters and one son.

Brian Williams

[Proc.R.Coll.Physicians.Edinb.,2001:31:370]

(Volume XI, page 18)

<< Back to List