Lives of the fellows

Thomas Ferguson

b.26 January 1948 d.12 April 2006
BSc Edin(1970) MB ChB(1972) MRCP(1977) MRCPath(1982) FRCPath(1993) FRCP Edin(1997) FRCP(1998) FRCPS Glasg(2000)

Tom Ferguson was a consultant at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Inverness. The son of Thomas Robert Ferguson, a joiner and wheelwright, and Mary Burden née McWatt, Tom was born into industrialised central Scotland. From childhood, however, his heart lay in the countryside of Perthshire, Comrie in particular, the birthplace of his father. Tom’s own birth was a home breech – unanticipated, protracted and difficult. And from that moment, when he shot into this world backwards, Tom’s life was never easy and he was never ordinary – always unpredictable and funny. A sunny, engaging and unusual child, football his boyhood passion, he flew through school. Aged 16, Tom undertook the first year of a BSc course at Queen’s College, St Andrews University, before joining the second year of Edinburgh Medical School in 1966. Tom’s undergraduate career was distinguished, obtaining a first class honours degree in pathology, before qualifying in medicine in 1972.

After professorial house jobs in Edinburgh, Tom was appointed to a joint post in medicine and as a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. Here his innate talent for research and original thought flourished and he published a number of papers relating to immunology and cytogenetics. Tom equally excelled at clinical medicine, and subsequently undertook a series of training posts, first in radiation oncology at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, and then haematology in Edinburgh, Bristol and Bath, before attaining his consultant post at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny, in 1983.

As consultant in a newly created single-handed position, Tom established and developed a thriving fully integrated clinical and laboratory haematology service, where previously none had existed. He used his considerable intellectual gifts, flair for both clinical medicine and research, love of his subject and respect for the individual to provide exemplary patient care and laboratory services locally. Both he and the service were widely respected.

As a haematologist, Tom was responsible for both the clinical and microscopic diagnosis of haematological disorders, including a heavy cumulative burden of haematological malignancy. He remained responsible for the treatment, follow-up and monitoring, by his own laboratory, of patients with these disorders, commonly for the remainder of their lives. This level of care on a single-handed basis, from diagnosis through to terminal care itself, imposed a considerable and relentless load on Tom, which he accepted with strength and determination.

Tom was a brilliant, courageous and compassionate doctor. Tom treated every patient with absolute care and respect, and worked tirelessly to ensure that each patient entrusted to his care achieved the best possible outcome and quality of life. He took nothing for granted, rigorously applying the full weight of his intellect, knowledge, clinical and technical skills, and bringing every resource available to him to bear. Tom always endeavoured to make difficult treatment as easy as possible, and gently took patients with him each step of the way. Tom’s patients trusted, respected and frankly, adored him.

Tom possessed the rare talent of original thought, and his ideas were often ahead of their time. One example of this was the introduction, from the inception of the clinical service in 1983, of a dedicated clinical haematology record, which facilitated clinical management, external review and audit, and included comprehensive care plans, devised to facilitate computerisation at a future date. He undertook exhaustive study, always pragmatic and with the sole objective of improving patient care. These studies ranged from establishing local reference ranges for commonly performed laboratory investigations, through to evaluating the mortality associated with toxic changes in the peripheral blood film, enabling a reconstruction of film reporting methods. Tom always had an eye for the user of the laboratory and transfusion services for which he was responsible. He instituted a widely regarded transfusion service, which revolutionised the care of surgical patients within the hospital and produced superb guidelines for medical and nursing staff on a wide variety of subjects.

Tom’s second consultant post with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, made possible his desired return to his native and beloved Scotland. Here, Tom transformed the department, imbuing it with a great sense of self-belief, worth and achievement. Tom vigorously introduced and expanded services at the clinical interface – fundamentally reassessing and reorganising the existing clinical services, and fostered closer ties with Raigmore and peripheral hospitals. Tom transformed the department, which is now acknowledged as a centre of excellence in transfusion practice. During this appointment Tom’s role broadened locally and to board level.

Tom was a handsome rugged man – both physically and mentally tough. He cut a fine dash on the ward – always immaculately dressed. Although never materialistic, he had a strong appreciation of fine things and good design, and had a penchant for nice cars, fountain pens and ties in particular.

Tom was a most unusual amalgam. He was an extraordinary talent in every respect – brilliant and exacting, but genuinely modest and self-effacing, delightful and funny. He possessed an unimpeachable integrity and honesty, was robust, good-natured, gentle, kind and good.

Tom had a wide range of talents. His knowledge of medicine, and anything else you could care to mention, was encyclopaedic. Tom was passionate about the countryside, and Scotland in particular. Latterly, Corrimony in the Highlands of Scotland, which he made his home, came to equal his lifelong love of Comrie. In Wales and Scotland he managed the land, planting trees and encouraging the natural flora to thrive. Retirement, and his daily walks in fair weather and foul gave him an intimacy and knowledge of the local countryside, which he relished and treasured. Tom was an accomplished, though infuriatingly modest, landscape photographer. Tom loved his home and the simple things of life. He shared his life with an extended family of adoring cats. He had a deep love and extensive knowledge of music; as a child played by ear, loving jazz and classical music in equal measure. A ferocious reader of medical literature, he hardly picked up a book of fiction until he retired. From then on he ‘ate’ fiction. He loved to blather, listen to the radio, watch a good film, and follow his football, of course.

Throughout considerable personal tragedy Tom maintained his integrity, dignity and commitment to work. His own illnesses he bore with characteristic courage, stoicism and good humour. Tom was pre-deceased by his first wife Madeleine, and leaves his second wife Ingrid, a general practitioner, and baby daughter Blythe – the blessing of whom brought him the joy, fulfilment and contentment of fatherhood.

Ingrid Ferguson

[Brit.med.J., 2006 333 356]

(Volume XII, page web)

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