Lives of the fellows

Roderick Norman McIver (Sir) MacSween

b.2 February 1935 d.11 December 2015
Kt(2000) BSc Glasg(1956) MB ChB(1959) MRCP Edin(1964) MRCP Glasg(1964) MRCPath(1967) FRCP Glasg(1972) MD(1973) FRCP Edin(1974) FRCPath(1979) FRSE(1985) FIBiol(1989) FMedSci(1998) FRCP(1999) Hon FRCS(2000) Hon FRCS Edin(2000) Hon DSc Glasg(2007)

Sir Roddy MacSween, professor of pathology at the University of Glasgow, was unquestionably one of Scotland’s most distinguished medical practitioners of his time. He was, as the popular press once put it, ‘top doc’, a man with a huge range of interests, both within and outside the sphere of medicine.

He was born on the island of Lewis, the son of Murdo MacLeod MacSween and Christina MacSween née McIver. A son of the manse, he was educated on Lewis, on Skye and in Inverness. His medical education was in Glasgow. During his student years he was heavily involved in playing shinty and debating. As a liberal he was up against Scottish heavyweights of the time such as Donald Dewar and John Smith.

Initially starting postgraduate training in internal medicine, his strong interest in basic sciences led him to a career in pathology. In 1964 he negotiated the MRCP with ease, under the guidance of Dan Cappell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.88] of the Western Infirmary, and developed a particular interest in pathology of the liver. He became a lecturer in pathology in 1965. Two years spent in Denver, Colorado, on a postgraduate fellowship were both happy and profitable. A rapid rise through the ranks over the ensuing years led to his appointment in 1984 to the chair of pathology at Glasgow University, based at the Western Infirmary. He held this post until his retirement in 1999.

Roddy’s skill as an interpreter of liver biopsy led to a worldwide referral practice and his election to a select group of the world’s finest hepatopathologists known as the gnomes; so called because their first meeting had been in Zurich. Despite his huge specialist workload and his administrative duties, he rarely missed the weekly gastrointestinal/hepatology clinical pathology case conference. He was a very enthusiastic teacher of undergraduates and postgraduate students. A constant stream of pathologists from all round the world came to his department. Roddy always found time to help and encourage them.

Multiple publications had his name on them. The first ever edition of Pathology of the liver (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone), co-edited with Peter Anthony and Peter Scheuer [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], appeared in 1979. This work is now established as the gold standard in its field. He also edited the 13th edition of Muir’s textbook of pathology (London, Edward Arnold, 1992). From 1985 until 1996, he was the editor of Journal of Histopathology and he also edited seven volumes of Recent Advances in Histopathology.

When he was not at the microscope or in the post-mortem room, he was active in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Royal College of Pathologists, the last of which he was president from 1996 to 1999. His all-round abilities were recognised by the presidents of the other Royal Colleges, leading to his election as chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges from 1998 to 2000. He was knighted for services to pathology and medicine.

His easy, relaxed and authoritative manner with lay members made him a natural to represent the profession in charities such as Tenovus Scotland, the British Lung Foundation in Scotland and the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation. He was president of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow.

Many outside interests were squeezed into his working week. Gardening, hill-walking and marathon running were all undertaken with characteristic vigour. His sedentary interests were bridge and Rabbie Burns. He was president of the Bridgeton Burns Club, the largest in the world. Golf, however, was his passion (his lowest handicap was five). He once described himself as a workaholic; he was certainly a golfaholic! On one 18-day holiday in his beloved Kintyre, he played two 18 hole rounds on 14 days – on the other four he played three! He captained two clubs in Argyll, Southend and Machrihanish.

In 1961 he married Marjory Pentland Brown, who supported him in all his professional activities while working as a dermatologist and rearing two children. Their daughter, Ruth, also became a dermatologist; their son Gordon an engineer and businessman.

Marjory devoted large amounts of energy and time caring for Roddy during his final protracted illness, ably supported by his favourite Talisker whisky.

J G Allan

[Herald Scotland 16 December 2015 – accessed 14 May 2016; The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow – accessed 14 May 2016; University of Glasgow campus e-news – accessed 14 May 2016; Hans Popper Hepatopathology Society – accessed 14 May 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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