Lives of the fellows

Allan Colin McDougall

b.13 November 1924 d.16 February 2006
MB ChB Edin(1946) DObst RCOG(1949) MRCP Edin(1951) FRFPS Glasg(1951) MD Edin(1958) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1979) FRCP Edin(1994)

In 1970 Colin McDougall joined the department of anatomy at Oxford at the invitation of Grahame Weddell and began his preoccupation with leprosy, an investigation which was to last 28 years and to which he made many important contributions.

He was born in Woolley, Northumberland, and brought up in Kent. He learned from his father, John Barnes McDougall, who had been a chest physician with an interest in tuberculosis. He went to Uppingham School and from thence, when just short of 17 years of age, he entered medical school at Edinburgh.

He qualified in 1946, and did his first internship at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, before taking a year in the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, as a budding obstetrician. After some general practice he joined the Royal Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association for three years beginning in 1953. Returning to England, he worked at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and then at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, before taking up tropical medicine and especially tuberculosis, working in Sumatra, Aden, Algeria and Zambia. In Zambia he developed the government’s leprosy programme and became familiar with the All Africa Leprosy Training Centre in Addis Ababa, to which he sent his team of African medical assistants for training. He also adopted some of the Malawi initiatives after a visit there where he admired the developing control programme and use of motor bikes and bicycles. He established an effective programme in the east of Zambia.

In Oxford he focused on the use of the microscope, first in the anatomy department and then at the Slade department of dermatology, where an annex for leprosy research had been named after the leprologist R G Cochrane [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.97].The annex was for the isolation of patients, but within months of Colin’s studies on the effect of rifampicin on eliminating mycobacterium leprae from the nose, isolation no longer became appropriate policy. Showing that it was effective if given only monthly made it affordable. Delivery in a blister pack with dapsone and chlorfazamine was a consequence of an exploratory partnership with Oxfam. A steady stream of visitors came to Colin from many parts of the world to learn histopathology skills. He was supported by well-trained technicians, Richard Jones, Chris Gummer and Kate Schomberg, and was able to give reliable reports on specimens sent from drug trials of new anti-leprosy regimens. Their work helped make the elimination of leprosy a viable WHO programme.

Colin moved from studying ‘nose blows’ and dust in the corners of rooms inhabited by persons affected by leprosy to a study of why the bacterium liked the nose and especially why it could be found, not as was already well known in the Schwann cell, but also in phagocytes such as blood vascular endothelium. This included studies on the temperature of the mouth and nasal cavity of dermatology colleagues. Some would race with him round the hospital with clips on their noses to encourage cooling of the hard palate on frosty mornings.

Colin respected hard work and meticulousness in colleagues and was critical of any lack of focus or industry. He himself examined some 15,000 histological specimens from the London Leprosy Study Centre. These were not mere glances but careful scanning of every nanometer under a high power lens. He worked closely with the similarly focused Dick Rees [Munk’s Roll, VolXI, p.475] at the Mill Hill MRC research centre.

Working in an expanding department of dermatology in an equally expanding medical school, Colin made the most of his enthusiasm for teaching about leprosy. This enthusiasm spread to organising national prize essay competitions and editing successful elective student reports from placements he had encouraged.

He was appointed as editor of Leprosy Review in 1978 for ten years and continued to support this key journal until his death. He was financed by Lepra and was careful not to over spend. He travelled frequently for them and other leprosy organisations and would have some miserable experiences by choosing to travel ‘stand-by’. In his final years he was an enthusiastic board member of a new scheme based in Oxford, the Global Project on the History of Leprosy (www.leprosyhistory.org).

He and his wife Josephine, who had two daughters (Hannah and Alice), were generous hosts to many overseas visitors. He would play honky-tonk piano music at each departmental Christmas party. There was often a Jazz band at his home and one played at the celebration of his life to an assembly of many friends at his home a few weeks after his death. He loved his home and fought furiously against environmental hazards in his garden, even when he was beginning to suffer from the aches and pains of his final illness. He organised his life to a rigidly-kept schedule and his preparation for death was equally meticulous, with papers carefully edited labelled and bound with ribbon. Days before leaving us he was willing and enthusiastically adding comments to manuscripts brought to him for an opinion. He was satisfied that the job he had done was well done and his family was occupied in jobs which gave them satisfaction.

T Ryan

[The Guardian 17 June 2006]

(Volume XII, page web)

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