Lives of the fellows

George Cranston Anderson

b.14 Nov 1879 d.1 Jan 1944
CBE (1942) MB ChB Edin (1904) MD Edin (1909) Hon LLD Belf (1937) *FRCP (1941)

George Cranston Anderson was born in Wisconsin. He was the only son of the Rev. K. C. Anderson, D.D., a prominent Scottish minister and theologian, and Robina Fisher. The father, a native of Jedburgh, held several pastorates of Congregational churches in America and later returned to Britain to the charge of a church in Bradford and eventually to one in Dundee.

George was educated at Bradford Grammar School, Dundee High School and the University of Edinburgh, where he won distinction as an athlete and for one year was the amateur champion hurdler of Scotland. After serving as a house surgeon at Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, Anderson settled in general practice in 1906 at Methil on the coast of Fife. He acted as medical superintendent of the near-by Wemyss Memorial Hospital.

From his early years in practice he took a keen interest in medical organisation. He was appointed secretary of a number of local professional bodies, including the Fife branch of the British Medical Association, and he was elected a member of the Association’s Scottish Committee. The experience of these years was a valuable preparation for his later career as a member of the permanent staff of the Association in London.

Between 1917 and 1919 Anderson served in the Middle East, with the temporary rank of captain, as surgical specialist to the 69th General Hospital. Soon after his return from military service in 1919 he was appointed deputy medical secretary of the B.M.A. On the retirement of Dr Alfred Cox in 1932 he was promoted to the office of medical secretary, later redesignated secretary when the duties of the post were enlarged to include supervision of the Association’s financial affairs.

These were arduous years for the B.M.A, and its secretariat. It was a time of change when the Association was busily engaged in discussions and negotiations concerning the development and co-ordination of the medical services of the country. In his early years on the staff Anderson gave enthusiastic and distinguished service to the Insurance Acts Committee in its struggle to improve the insurance medical service and the conditions of insurance practitioners.

Many other projects owed much to his leadership, including the establishment of the National Eye Service and the National Register of Medical Auxiliaries. In 1935 his abundant energies and marked social talents ensured the outstanding success of the round-the-world tour organised in connection with the annual meetings of the Association in Melbourne.

About this time also he threw himself with vigour into the successful fight against the Bill for the registration of osteopaths. Outside the medico-political sphere the Association was continually carrying out, through special committees, important studies of scientific and socio-medical problems, a notable example being the committee on fractures, the report of which gave an impetus to the development of rehabilitation services.

In the winter of 1936-7 he visited India on behalf of the Association and produced a valuable report on the conditions of medical practice in that country. Early in 1939, partly with the object of assisting his convalescence after a long illness, he was sent on what proved to be a highly successful tour of the branches of the Association in the West Indies.

When the Second World War began to cast its shadow Anderson had the task of creating the machinery for recruitment of doctors to the Defence Forces. The emergency register of the profession, which the Association undertook to compile at the request of the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1937, was revised in the following year, and at the time of the Munich crisis it contained comprehensive information, voluntarily supplied, about the professional experience, and preferences in respect of national service, of 95 per cent, of the country’s doctors. A representative committee of the profession, known as the Central Emergency Committee, was set up.

Later, with the changed title of the Central Medical War Committee, this body, meeting frequently at the Association’s offices with Anderson as its secretary, and working in close liaison with local medical war committees based on the Association’s divisional areas, carried out the highly responsible and onerous duty of selecting doctors for national service in the Forces with due regard to the medical needs of the civilian population.

The enormous amount of office work which had to be undertaken for this committee imposed a heavy burden on the depleted secretarial staff of the Association, and particularly on the secretary. Although he mixed easily with all sorts, Anderson was a shrewd judge of men and could sum up in a humorously astringent way (but without malice) one of his fellows who was not persona grata. He had no respect for the materialist whose sole obsession was professional remuneration. He cared about standards of practice and of conduct, and throughout his period of office he took a very special interest in the work of the Association’s Central Ethical Committee.

He made it his aim to attract to the work of the Association men of character and intelligence, and many such were encouraged by him to participate in B.M.A, affairs. He enjoyed occupying a position of authority and influence. He was proud of being ‘the head man’, as he sometimes referred to himself, at B.M.A. House. There was nothing authoritarian, however, in his handling of the other members of the secretariat, whom he treated as professional brothers rather than as subordinates.

The unfailing courtesy, friendliness and tolerance of the man, combined with his stability and integrity of character and his reputation for having ‘his feet on the ground’, endeared him to the rank and file of the Association’s membership and also to the officers of the many professional institutions with which he was associated in his work.

Physically Anderson was a fine specimen of his race. Tall in stature, he retained to the end his slim figure, erect carriage and vigorous gait. Especially perhaps in his later years, when the rugged Scottish countenance was crowned with a shock of hair which had turned pure white, he had a very imposing and dignified presence. He had no brilliance of the academic sort and no marked intellectual or artistic interests. He enjoyed his golf at Sandy Lodge and liked a game of bridge. He had no taste for wine, and at public dinners he would ask the waiter to substitute a ‘clean’ beverage produced in Scotland.

His chief hobby was his work. In 1920 he married Elizabeth Alexa Gray, and this charming and vivacious lady was a powerful ally on social occasions, both at B.M.A, functions and in their home, where they were generous in their hospitality to colleagues and friends.

* An asterix against FRCP means the fellow was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not members of the College who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1944, 1, 62-3, 87-9 (p); Lancet, 1944, 1, 70 (p).]

(Volume V, page 13)

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