Lives of the fellows

Denis Aubrey Francis McGill

b.16 October 1925 d.21 September 2006
MB BS Lond(1952) MRCS LRCP(1952) MRCP(1955) MD(1958) FRCP(1971)

Denis McGill was a consultant physician at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and played a large part in putting Winchester on the medical map. He was born in Brighton, the son of Ernest William McGill, a schoolmaster, and Edith Ann née Maslin, the daughter of an engineer. He was educated at Minchenden School, Southgate, and left at 17 to join the Fleet Air Arm and from 1942 to 1946 was a sub-lieutenant observer in Tobago. At the end of the war he was stationed at Worthy Down, close to the city where he would devote 40 years of his life.

He entered Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1946, graduating in 1952 and undertook training posts at Guy’s and the Brompton hospital. As a registrar he took an interest in endocrine exophthalmos and, using Japanese goldfish whose eyes were made to pop, demonstrated that the factor responsible was derived from the pituitary gland. This research formed the basis of his MD thesis. From 1959 to 1960 he was an exchange fellow at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he helped develop an immunoelectrophoretic method for measuring thyroid stimulating hormone.

In 1962 he was appointed consultant physician to Winchester and his responsibilities included Basingstoke, Alton and Andover hospitals, covering a wide area with his colleague Wilfred Brinton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.43]. He prided himself on being the first to arrive in the hospital each morning and the last to leave at night. Most of his telephone calls were made before breakfast. His energy and willingness to work all hours made him much in demand as an excellent clinical opinion and many doctors became his patients.

His memory for names sometimes let him down and his technique for dealing with this common problem was unique. Provided that the subjects were male and regardless of age they were addressed as ‘father’. This often drew a varied response.

His philosophy was to support and care for the individual with their family, rather than just treat the disease, and he fought hard for the welfare of his patients. He was generous to his younger colleagues and always a source of sensible and practical advice. Many generations of medical students from Southampton, the London medical schools and Australia benefitted from his enthusiastic teaching.

Denis sat on various management committees because he felt it was his duty, but did not enjoy the experience. He would be the first to admit he was not a ‘committee’ man. Clinical meetings were much more to his liking and he became secretary and chairman of the Wessex Physicians Club. He retired as senior physician in 1987.

Outside medicine, his main interests were shooting, painting and tending his immaculate lawn. He was a first class shot and had many friends in the farming community. A brace of pheasants on the doorstep during the winter months was his calling sign. He was a talented watercolour artist and had exhibitions locally where his pictures were much in demand. His lawn received his devoted attention even when he was working and patients would spot him removing the odd weed as they got ready for a consultation.

He became chief medical adviser to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary and served under three chief constables from 1962 to 1991. During the same period he was chief medical adviser to the Hampshire Fire Brigade. In later years he advised Norwich Union Healthcare.

During his working lifetime he earned the admiration of his friends and colleagues. In retirement he equally gained their respect by displaying courage and forbearance during his final illness from cancer. It is a fitting tribute to his memory that in the hospital that he loved the medical assessment unit is named ‘McGill’ ward.

He is survived by his wife Pam née May, to whom he was married for 48 years, his son (Nick) and two daughters (Sue and Jane).

John Powell-Jackson

[gktgazette May/June 2003, pp.988-989]

(Volume XII, page web)

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