Lives of the fellows

Colin Macleod Ogilvie

b.4 January 1922 d.4 April 2007
MB ChB Liverp(1944) MRCP(1950) MD(1954) FRCP(1968)

Colin Macleod Ogilvie was a consultant physician and chest specialist in Liverpool. Just before he died he was awarded the British Thoracic Society medal, given for his contribution to respiratory physiology and for inspiring the careers of so many junior colleagues. He supervised 14 MDs and several of his protégés became professors. In 1959, working with Julius Hiram Comroe [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.105], having obtained a scholarship to Philadelphia, he published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation the technique for the estimation of the single breath transfer factor for carbon monoxide which, nearly 50 years later, has proved to be the most durable and accurate assessment of the gas exchanging function of the human lung.

Colin was born in Warrington, where his father, Ian Ogilvie, was a general practitioner. He was a chorister at Terra Nova School, Birkdale, and attended Marlborough. Here his lifelong interest in bird watching and climbing was kindled by E G H Kempson, the Everest climber, and Colin had the distinction of falling off a Lakeland mountain whilst roped to Kempson and John Hunt, later Lord Hunt, leader of the successful 1953 team which scaled Everest.

Colin attended Liverpool Medical School throughout the Second World War and his house jobs were in Manchester and at Clatterbridge Hospital, Wirral. Here he wrote a definitive paper on the mating habits of rooks. Back in Liverpool, his junior medical posts were influenced by Ernest Noble Chamberlain [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VI, p.97], Henry Cohen [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.106] and Robert Coope [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.114]. As a senior medical registrar he went to the London and St Bartholomew’s hospitals, where, after returning from the States, he set up the first lung function laboratory in the UK, encouraged by Kenneth Perry [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.374].

He was appointed consultant physician in Liverpool, firstly to the Stanley Hospital and Broadgreen chest unit, where he set up the regional pulmonary function laboratory which now bears his name. He led this unit for over 25 years until his retirement and until his death supported and encouraged the pulmonary function physiological measurement staff. When the Stanley Hospital closed, Colin was appointed to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and Royal Southern hospitals. In the chest unit, William Stanley Sutton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.566] and Ogilvie were physicians amongst surgeons and cardiologists and they established the concept of the multi-disciplinary team approach decades before other clinical disciplines. Colin was also chairman of the medical committee of the King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, where he kept in contact with his former London colleagues.

Colin’s mother, Helen née Johnstone, had been one of the first female graduates in English at Aberdeen University. Her precise use of spoken and written English was reflected in Colin’s clear communication skills, which in oral presentations were enhanced by the introduction of powerful pauses. He was a most popular teacher of medical students and for 30 years was the co-author of Chamberlain’s symptoms and signs in clinical medicine (Bristol, J Wright). This has recently become the standard undergraduate text book in the Asian sub-continent. He contributed chapters to many books, numerous papers to peer review journals and he was editor of Thorax for six years – the leading UK medical journal for diseases of the chest. With Eric Tom Baker-Bates [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.14] and A John Robertson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], he was a friendly contributor to the Friday circus at the university medical school, and he became an MRCP host examiner. In 1984 he was elected president of the British Thoracic Society and all who attended his inaugural after-dinner address in York will recall his great oratory skills.

He was the first to establish a regional branch of the British Lung Foundation on Merseyside and he became a national trustee, a role he also fulfilled for the Merseyside Medical Benevolent Fund. He was president of the Liverpool Medical Institution in 1978 and was elected an honorary life member in 1991. He oversaw the successful bicentenary appeal for the Institution and hosted a visit by Diana, Princess of Wales, at the Institution on behalf of the British Lung Foundation. He delivered the Henry Cohen History of Medicine Lecture in 2001, only the second Liverpool graduate after Cohen himself.

In retirement he was vice-chairman of the Family Service Unit, the national chairman being Lord David Sheppard, and Colin advised the Liverpool diocese on health matters. He was editor of the Association of Liverpool Medical School (ALMS) newsletter for many years – the newsletter for medical school alumni. For several years he was the pre registration adviser to the faculty of medicine, visiting over 200 posts in Merseyside and north Cheshire.

My abiding recollection is of a gentle physician with astute clinical skills based on thorough history taking and examination, an inquisitive academic mind with unrivalled ability to inspire others. He was particularly able to empathise with the suffering of others, whilst quite often simultaneously being prone to personal episodes of profound depression. When Colin retired 20 years ago a large number of colleagues assembled in the lecture theatre of the Liverpool Medical Institution, where there was unanimous agreement that he had been the best professor the university never appointed to a chair.

At the well-attended service of celebration and thanksgiving for Colin’s life, following his death from renal failure, the medical members of the congregation learned of aspects of his life which he had kept private. Most knew of his love of the Lake District, his cottage at Coniston, natural history, ornithology and his ability to prepare perfect picnics, but few knew of his service to the church, particularly St Peter’s Woolton, Liverpool, and the Family Service Organistion, and his writing (essays on philosophy, religion, poetry and mystery plays). In turn, the non-medical members of the congregation learnt of his massive contribution to medicine, locally, nationally and internationally.

C C Evans

(Volume XII, page web)

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