Lives of the fellows

Hugh Conway

b.2 March 1917 d.7 April 2014
BSc Glasg(1937) MB ChB(1940) MRCP(1947) FRFPS Glasg(1960) MRCP Glasg(1962) FRCP Glasg(1964) FRCP(1966) MRCP Edin(1971) FRCP Edin(1974)

Hugh Conway was a consultant physician at the Royal Alexandra Infirmary, Paisley. He was born in Beith, Ayrshire, the son of Hugh Conway, a merchant, and Agnes Ewing Conway née Conway, and was educated at Spiers School in Beith. He proceeded to Glasgow University, graduating BSc in 1937 and MB ChB in 1940.

Following house posts at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1941 to 1946. On D-Day in June 1944 he took a blood transfusion unit to Normandy and was mentioned in despatches for his bravery. While serving in Belgium in 1945 he was selected for specialist training under (later Sir) Melville Arnott [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.29] and, with the rank of major, he was sent to Malta, where he was in charge of the medical unit in the military hospital.

Following his demobilisation from the Army, he returned to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, joining the professorial medical unit under (later Sir) John McNee [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.317] and selecting haematology as his special interest. This led to further training in Rochester, New York, USA, under George Whipple, who had won the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 1934 for his work on the relationship of the liver to certain types of anaemia.

Shortly after his return from America, he was appointed as a consultant physician to the Royal Alexandra Infirmary, a district general hospital, in Paisley in 1953. The then dean of the medical faculty of Glasgow University asked him to take academic medicine to Paisley, and he was appointed an honorary clinical lecturer. He was to remain in Paisley until his retirement in 1982.

Blessed with an outstanding memory, which remained even in old age, he was a gifted teacher of undergraduate students and early postgraduate doctors, many of whom became consultants and who would quote the lessons they learned from Hugh Conway’s ward rounds. He had an ability to make the ordinary quite dramatic with slight exaggeration, but not an untruth.

The early days in Paisley were extremely busy, with two consultants receiving acute admissions on alternate days to Nightingale wards often full and with at times extra beds up the middle of the wards and even in the day rooms. Cooperation with the general practitioners was essential and the majority accepted that they were part of a team doing the best for the patient, but Hugh Conway also had a ‘black list’ of practitioners who were encouraged to send their patients to the neighbouring Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

Medical services in the west of Scotland from Oban in the north to Dumfries in the south were administered by the Greater Glasgow Health Board. This was considered cumbersome and in 1974 Hugh Conway and others were asked to form a new board named Argyll and Clyde to administer the west coast including Paisley. Although not in agreement with this concept and preferring Paisley to be linked to the city of Glasgow, Conway accepted the duty imposed on him and he served as a board member until retirement.

Among his many distinctions in his professional life, he was president of the Scottish Society of Physicians in 1974 and took the annual meeting to Oban, with great success. He was also honoured to be a member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

On his retirement, Hugh moved home from Paisley to the Clyde coast, but he continued to be medically active as an adviser to the Ministry of Defence and as a medical appeal tribunal member. He also regularly attended a weekly discussion group at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and with his friend Robert Hutcheson, registrar and secretary of the court of the University of Glasgow, he wrote papers on the history of the university.

Hugh Conway belonged to the old school. He was authoritative and did not suffer fools gladly, but he was supportive of academic medicine and of those who put the patient before other interests.

Outside medicine, he did not have many social or sporting pastimes except for rugby, which he played with merit before the war. He much enjoyed the Scottish international games. He and his wife Lilian (née Donald), also a doctor, enjoyed travel abroad. After her death in 1998, he returned to Paisley, to a retirement flat. He was an elder of Glasgow Cathedral and in his last years attended Paisley Abbey, but he seldom spoke of his beliefs. His youngest daughter Ailsa died as a teenager while a student nurse from an aggressive lymphoma, and a second daughter, Catriona, predeceased him. A third daughter, Morag, also trained as a nurse and he was proud of his only son Donald, who was a judge.

Hugh Conway died in the former Princess Louise Hospital for ex-servicemen and women in Glasgow, to which he had been an honorary consultant physician for many years.

Stuart McAlpine

[The Herald Scotland 17 April 2014 – accessed 10 December 2014; BMJ 2014 348 3230]

(Volume XII, page web)

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