Lives of the fellows

Iain Norman Fanshawe McQueen

b.17 November 1945 d.21 February 2013
BSc Edin(1967) MB ChB(1970) MRCP(1974) FRCP Edin(1986) FRCP(1994)

Iain McQueen was a consultant neurologist in Cardiff, Wales. He was born in Shillong, India, the son of Norman McQueen, of the Indian Medical Service and later a general practitioner based in Edinburgh, and Jean Fanshawe, daughter of Sir Reginald Winnington Fanshawe, a professional soldier, of Bath. McQueen was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, and Edinburgh University Medical School. A razor sharp intellect; a sense of humour both whimsical and dry to the point of desiccation; a fascination with how things work; a knack of having the right word for every occasion; and an interest in how people tick might have qualified Iain McQueen for careers in law, engineering, politics and many other professions. But, despite contrary advice from his father, McQueen chose to study medicine in his home town: he graduated BSc in 1967 and MB ChB in 1970.

After junior hospital appointments in Edinburgh, he was attracted to neurology through the example of consultants he encountered in Scotland. He first went to Glasgow, as a registrar in neurology at Southern General Hospital, and then moved to Cardiff in 1977 as a senior registrar.

In 1982 he was appointed as a consultant physician in neurology at the University Hospital of Wales. At that time, neurology in the Principality, as in many other places outside London, was still run on arrangements that had existed since the Second World War: a few specialists took responsibility for very many people living in a huge area. But the sun was beginning to set on this model of provincial neurology, and new arrangements for the provision of services were needed. Whilst his two consultant colleagues based themselves mainly at the University Hospital of Wales and Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff, McQueen also provided neurological services in Brecon, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd, Llantrisant, Caerphilly and Bridgend. He provided at least one out-patient clinic each day, and was permanently on-call single-handed for several of these district general hospitals.

Although job plans and working time directives have left that species of neurologist who delivered a prodigious clinical workload now largely extinct, McQueen considered it a privilege and a responsibility to engage with the people of south Wales, who often kept the intimacies of their disordered nervous systems secret for some time, eventually manifesting a rich and diverse panorama of brain disease. They needed outstanding doctors; and McQueen was just that.

On returning from work in the valleys, he would retire to his office and dictate long, precise, witty and invariably kind accounts of the many cases seen each week. As a medical student, he was recognised for being linguistically nimble, with an ability to find the right metaphor, to summon the pithy epigram and work the play-on-words; in short, to engage with everything involved in verbal gymnastics. For Iain McQueen loved conversation, conducted as if he was counsel for the prosecution, with a style of argument that gave forensic attention to detail, using the ruthless logic and precision of his early schooling in the classics. Proceedings started behind a smokescreen, as he selected a suitable plaintiff, and then led gently to the reading out of the charge sheet, the subject soon realising that she or he was in reality being flattered through a combination of personal analysis and sublimated admiration. These clever but teasing interrogations were expressions of affection and respect, never conducted with malice, but from a love of words, ideas, companionship and people.

Iain McQueen was competent as a clinical neurophysiologist and introduced to Wales techniques for detecting evoked potentials after these had been developed elsewhere. He contributed to hospital management as a member and chairman of district and regional medical committees. McQueen did not engage in research, but he became interested in excitotoxic mechanisms of neuronal death and, with colleagues, published some original articles on this topic and on neuroendocrinology; and he wrote occasional clinical papers, including the description of bilateral brachial plexus injuries resulting from median sternotomy (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1981 Jul;44[7]:621-5). He was a regular attendee at meetings of the Society of Physicians in Wales, contributing both to the professional education and vigorous social activities that characterised these celebrations of contemporary Celtic medicine in the grand hotels of north Wales. McQueen was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and of London.

Iain McQueen married Rosalind Helen, daughter of Dugald Gardner, professor of histopathology in Manchester, in 1971. They had three sons (David, Alastair and Robert) and one daughter (Jane). The family home in Cyncoed, Cardiff, was a haven for those seeking refreshment and stimulating conversation. For several years, McQueen suffered ill-health, which led to his early retirement from medical practice. He set a fine example of how a wise and experienced physician adapts to the role of patient, tolerating the many facets of illness with fortitude, dignity and good humour.

Alastair Compston

(Volume XII, page web)

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