Lives of the fellows

Gavin Lawrence Glasgow

b.14 January 1924 d.31 October 2015
BMedSc NZ (1945) MB ChB(1948) MRCP(1951) MRACP(1956) FRACP(1963) FRCP(1971)

Gavin Glasgow was born in Christchurch, the son of Wilfred Glasgow, a general practitioner in New Brighton, and Eileen Monica (née Senior-Lawrence).

He had two younger siblings: Philippa Wiggins, FRSNZ, a prominent medical scientist, and Nigel. In 1950 he married Marjory Gunn, an Otago graduate in home science and child development. Gavin is survived by Marjory and their three children: Simon (businessman), Nicholas (Dean, Medicine and Health Sciences, Australian National University) and Rachel (clinical psychotherapist).

Gavin attended Christ’s College, Canterbury (1937-1941), where he was a prefect in his final year and was awarded the CC Corfu Scholarship in mathematics. He passed his medical intermediate in Christchurch and entered the Otago Medical School in 1943, where Professor Jack Eccles’ contagious enthusiasm, inspiring lectures and passion for research stimulated an interest in neurophysiology. Along with four other students (Marianne Fillenz, Mary Hanafin, David Cole and Derek Gallagher) he was invited to spend a year in research for a BMedSc degree in physiology. Gavin and David Cole developed an experimental model of lumbar nerve root compression and with the neurosurgeon, Murray Falconer, they studied the pattern of sensory loss in patients with lumbar disc disease. The latter research resulted in a publication in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. As a result of this experience, and with Eccles’ encouragement, Gavin decided to pursue a career in neurology. After graduating MB ChB, he spent two years as a house surgeon in Dunedin Hospital. There was no neurologist in Dunedin, but he worked as Falconer’s house surgeon. After Falconer left New Zealand, Gavin was the acting neurosurgical registrar to Falconer’s successor, Anthony James.

As James noted, however, Gavin’s “capabilities were more pronounced on the medical side of neurosurgical practice”.

Following six months in locum general practice, Gavin and Marjory travelled to Britain on the Australia Star, Gavin working his way as the ship’s doctor. He passed the London membership examination on his first attempt in 1951. His intuition, which characterised his career as a neurologist, was already apparent.

When presented with an x-ray of a man’s legs and asked what he thought that man’s occupation was, Gavin noted multiple calcific deposits in the muscles and replied, “An officer in the Indian army”, which was correct as the calcification was secondary to cysticercosis. He was house physician to Sheila Sherlock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.514] at the Hammersmith and then the neurological registrar to Charles Symonds [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.563] and Sean McArdle at Guy’s Hospital. Symonds and McArdle became his mentors and friends. After 18 months at Guy’s, he was appointed as a clerk and then a house physician at the National Hospital, Queen Square for a further 18 months.

While he was in London Edward Sayers [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.437], the senior physician at Auckland Hospital, encouraged him to set up practice in Auckland. He also was offered a position as the Chief Neurology Resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but for financial reasons he chose to return to New Zealand in 1956. He established himself in private practice in Princes Street and later in Mount Street, and he was appointed as an Assistant Physician at Auckland Hospital. He was one of a group of rebellious young physicians who successfully campaigned for assistant physicians to be given more clinical responsibility in the late 1950s.

In 1957 he was joined by a second neurologist, Keith Eyre, and a neurology department was formally inaugurated in 1959. For the first few years the independence of neurology as a specialty was seriously threatened by resistance from the senior neurosurgeon, but largely due to Gavin’s determination, clinical expertise and his popularity in the hospital, the department survived.

Glasgow and Eyre formed the nucleus of a department that has developed into one of the largest neurology departments in Australasia.

Gavin remained on the consultant staff of Auckland Hospital until he retired in 1989. He arranged for the chairmanship of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery to rotate by election, although throughout this time Glasgow was the unofficial leader of neurology.

His style of leadership was benign and inclusive, whereby decisions were made by consensus and younger consultants were allowed to work independently without interference from their senior colleagues.

He was a superb clinical neurologist and teacher. He was knowledgeable, astute, intuitive, careful, but quick to make a diagnosis. He was respected as a master physician, both in Auckland and in New Zealand. He was an outstanding teacher, especially at the bedside. He was a clear thinker and he had a special ability to communicate his train of thought to colleagues, junior doctors and students. Many of his trainees went on to careers in neurology and other fields of medicine.

He had a keen sense of humour and an eloquent turn of phrase that could sum up a problem succinctly in a few words. He was aware of the limitations of medical knowledge and on the few occasions when he was confronted with a patient whose problem defied diagnosis he would say: “He is a good example of the condition from which he suffers,” rather than try to force the diagnosis into a known category.

He served the College with distinction. As chairman of the Accreditation Board he was responsible for establishing the Part I examination and the advanced training programme in New Zealand. He served on the Dominion Committee and the College Council, and from 1983-1984 he was the New Zealand Vice-President, the senior position in New Zealand. His contributions to the College’s affairs were recognised when he was awarded the John Sands Medal in 1988.

Gavin was a member of a group of friends (David Cole, Campbell Maclaurin, Derek North and Gavin) dubbed the “Gang of Four” that had a leading role in the administration of the Auckland School of Medicine in its first 25 years. When the medical school was established, Gavin was appointed Clinical Reader in Medicine and he played a major role in planning the undergraduate curriculum.

From 1979 to 1989 he was the Clinical Sub-Dean with responsibility for the administration, curriculum and examinations of the clinical years of the course.

After his retirement from Auckland Hospital in 1989, he resumed work in private practice and he was appointed Examinations Director of the Medical Council of New Zealand. He established an examination system for overseas trained physicians seeking registration in New Zealand.

He regretted that he had little time for research himself, but he published 20 articles including significant papers on subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, neurological complications of ankylosing spondylitis and the association of patent foramen ovale with strokes. He encouraged others to pursue research and was one of a small group of clinicians and scientists involved in the planning of the New Zealand Neurological Foundation.

Later he was a member of its Scientific Advisory Committee.

Gavin had an active role in the Anglican Diocese in Auckland; he was a synodsman and beadle at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. He was the President of the Auckland Medico-legal Society, President of the Auckland Clinical Society and Chairman of the Medical Panel of the New Zealand Epilepsy Association. In the 1970’s Glasgow, John Boyd-Wilson and AR (“Tangi”) Martin initiated a process that resulted in a fundamental change in the management of the Medical Assurance Society.

He was a crafty squash player, able to use either hand to play forehand shots and after retiring, he was a member of the Remuera Golf Club.

Gavin was the last surviving foundation member of the Neurological Association of New Zealand, which he served as its secretary and president. His death marks the end of an era in New Zealand neurology. He set a high standard of clinical expertise and played a major role in establishing high standards of clinical practice and research in neurology in New Zealand.

Neil Anderson

[This obituary was prepared with the advice of Professor Nicholas Glasgow and Dr Jon Simcock; Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll]

(Volume XII, page web)

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