Lives of the fellows

James Cowie

b.9 February 1942 d.27 March 2008
BSc Aberd(1964) MB ChB(1969) MRCP(1972) FRCP(1983)

Jim Cowie spent his consultant career as a general and chest physician to the Plymouth hospitals in south west England. He was brought up in Banbury. His father, James, had been an off-shore fisherman from the coast of Banffshire. Jim took the 11+ examination and was educated at Banbury Grammar School. He studied biochemistry at Aberdeen, achieving a BSc degree in 1964, being the first member of his family to go to university. It was during this course that he met Louise Backett, who was acquiring a PhD in physiology at the time. They married in 1966, whilst Jim was still a student and bought a small cottage outside Aberdeen with no bathroom and a kitchen in the porch. He decided to study medicine, qualifying in 1969.

After his house officer posts in Aberdeen, the family moved to London, where he had been appointed senior house officer at the Central Middlesex Hospital in west London. He was soon promoted to medical registrar, being trained by the formidable pair of Keith Ball and Martin McNicol.

Daughters arrived in 1968 (Nicola) and 1970 (Rachel), and when he visited Louise in the obstetric unit in 1972 she was uncertain whether he was more pleased by the acquisition of a son (Jamie) or of his MRCP.

By 1973 he was a senior registrar at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. His interests lay more in practical than in academic medicine or research, and at the end of 1976 he was appointed consultant general and chest physician in Plymouth, thus achieving consultant status only seven years after qualification. He brought to Plymouth his skills in fibre-optic bronchoscopy and cardiac pacemakers, and his ability to sustain the heavy workload of acute medical take in a busy district hospital, as well as his specialty. His practice of medicine was characterised by an ability to calmly and rapidly assess the most sick. This was much appreciated by his intensive care colleagues when it came to making difficult decisions about continuing treatment. A fellow Scot describes him as being “self-deprecating and difficult to shift when convinced of the correctness of his view.”

In 1983, whilst walking into a very cold wind on Princes Street, Edinburgh, he had the first symptoms of a (familial) dermatomyositis, a serious illness which took him off full-time work for a year. He recovered and went on to contribute to the management as well as the clinical aspects of the hospital. He was clinical director of medicine and proved himself to be both fair and a shrewd judge of character. These skills were of particular value when, as chairman of the division of medicine, he helped to support the reintegration of geriatric into general medicine with joint training for the registrar grade.

Outside of medicine his interests included music, reading and travel. He derived great pleasure from family, more so with the advent of grandchildren. During the last two years of his life his health was less good and on returning from a very successful family birthday occasion in France, he collapsed and died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Clive McGavin

(Volume XII, page web)

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