Lives of the fellows

Gavin Cranston Arneil

b.7 March 1923 d.21 January 2018
MB ChB Glasg(1945) MD(1949) FRFPS Glasg(1949) DCH(1951) MRCP(1952) PhD(1960) MRCP Edin(1962) MRCP Glasg(1962) FRCP Edin(1964) FRCP Glasg(1964) FRCP(1968) Hon FAAP(1976) Hon DSc Ankara(1980) FRCPI(1986)

Gavin Arneil was a professor of child health at Glasgow University and a pioneer in the treatment of children with kidney disease. He established the first specialist children’s kidney unit in the UK and went on to found national, European and international paediatric nephrology societies. In the 1950s, there was little that could be done to help children who had kidney failure and most kidney disease was untreatable: by the time of his death it was very rare for children to die of kidney failure and transplantation was very successful, leading to virtually normal lives.

Born in Glasgow, his father, Loudon Arneil, was a university senior lecturer and his mother, Elizabeth Marguerite Stewart Arneil née Hogg, an infant teacher. He was educated at Jordanhill College School and Glasgow University from 1940 to 1945, where he was also a member of the Home Guard. Then followed National Service, including 18 months in charge of research at the War Office. He trained in paediatrics in Glasgow under the formidable James Hutchison [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.239].

He was appointed as a consultant to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and rapidly developed a special interest in kidney disease. His research led to a better understanding of the underlying pathology of kidney disease by his promotion of the use of kidney biopsy. He was greatly influenced by the pioneering work of Henry Barnett in New York and undertook research into vasopressin, an important substance controlling kidney function, which led to a PhD. Steroids were just becoming available to treat a variety of conditions and he defined their use in nephrotic syndrome, helping organise a major international trial.

He was also interested in rickets, then a particular problem in the immigrant population in Glasgow. He had an educational cartoon dubbed in Hindi and Urdu, which was played between the main feature films in the Cosmo cinema, and eventually managed to virtually eliminate this very preventable disease. He also eliminated TB with a coordinated BCG campaign. He was an excellent clinician who always had the child’s best interests at heart.

In 1965, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children was condemned as unfit and dangerous. He led a six-person team who relocated all 350 beds to another site in 12 weeks, following which he became chairman of the commissioning group for the new hospital at Yorkhill.

Having established Glasgow as a major centre for the study of kidney disease in children, he was a founding member of the British Association for Paediatric Nephrology and was a leading figure in the establishment of the European and international associations, at various times being secretary general, chairman or president of all.

When his mentor Hutchison retired as the Samson Gemmell professor of child health in Glasgow, Arneil was very disappointed not to succeed him, although he was awarded a personal chair. As a consequence, he turned his efforts internationally, becoming secretary general then president of the International Pediatric Association, the only Briton ever to hold this high office in its 100-year history. In his presidential term, the annual meeting was in the Philippines, a highlight of which was Arneil dancing with Imelda Marcos at the annual dinner. His international work called on him to visit and advise in over 50 countries, including many former Iron Curtain countries, as well as Biafra during the war, Kampuchean camps and Bosnia during its troubles.

Although he was a devout Glaswegian with the not uncommon antipathy to colleagues in Edinburgh, he joined with John Forfar [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] from Edinburgh in 1973 to produce Forfar and Arneil’s textbook of paediatrics (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone), now in its eighth edition as the only non-US major textbook of paediatrics, with over 100 contributors and 2,000 pages.

He was awarded the St Mungo prize in 1985, which is Glasgow’s highest civic award. In retirement, he was a passionate member of the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, becoming honorary president succeeding Sir Robert Grieve.

He had a good sense of humour, sailed, golfed, gardened, once imported wine, quoted Burns freely and once even successfully treated a sick chimp at Glasgow Zoo. To many he was rather aloof and distant: in his latter years, a doctor treating him said that they felt they were in the presence of someone great, an aura that he did little to dispel. He was a large man with very big hands into which tiny babies would disappear when he was examining them. He had a trademark moustache.

He married June (née Lauder) in Dunfermline Abbey in 1961 and they had one daughter, Marion, and two grandsons, Duncan and Lewis, all of whom survive him.

Heather Maxwell
Alan Craft

[The Herald 2 February 2018 – accessed 14 December 2018; The Telegraph 6 March 2018 – accessed 14 December 2018; BMJ 2018 361 1438 – accessed 14 December 2018; Pediatr Nephrol (2018) 33: 1273 – accessed 14 December 2018]

(Volume XII, page web)

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