Professor Edward McCombie McGirr has died a few weeks short of his 87th birthday, after a long illness. His vision, breadth of knowledge, and prodigious energy enabled him to play a crucial role in the development of academic medicine and the NHS in the 1960s and 1970s.
He was born in 1916 in Hamilton, the younger son of William McGirr and Ann McCombie. He was educated at Hamilton Academy and entered Glasgow University in 1934, graduating BSc in 1937 and MB ChB with honours
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Following house jobs at the Royal and Western infirmaries in Glasgow, he entered the RAMC in 1941 and served in India, Burma, Siam, and Indo-China. His war experiences were very influential in his development in many ways. In particular, it made him suspicious of parochialism.
He later said: ''I think that it is important to realise that many people have different ways of looking at things, different attitudes, different philosophies. I believe that my years spent with the RAMC made me personally more tolerant. Basically, I disapprove of narrow-minded nationalism. There were many delusions in the past about the strength of this nation. We must have confidence in ourselves but we must also recognise the strength in others.''
He was demobilised in 1947 with the honorary rank of major and returned to the department of medicine at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Under the leadership of Professor LJ Davis, the department was being transformed at that time from a teaching department to one which was active in clinical research.
Edward McGirr was an important component of that change. Having had the farsightedness to realise the potential of radioisotopes in medical research, he applied them to thyroid pathophysiology - one of the first in Scotland to use radiotracers medically. His delineation of the enzyme defects leading to dyshormonogenetic goitres was a classic piece of work, still quoted in textbooks 30 years later, and led to the award of MD with honours and the
Bellahouston Medal by
In 1961, Edward was appointed to the Muirhead Chair of Medicine and over the next 15 years built his department into one of the best for clinical research in the UK. He did this by recruiting bright young academics, providing them with opportunities and encouraging them to establish their independence.
His success is indicated by the fact that more than 25 members of his department were appointed to Chairs in the UK and beyond. He had high standards and expected his staff to live up to them. However, he ran his department calmly and with a quiet sense of humour. The characteristic twinkle in his eye was never far away.
In 1974 he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, a post he held until he retired in 1981. In this post he was influential in many ways, notably in building the research capacity of the medical school and in establishing an undergraduate nursing course. He was extensively involved in more general university activities because of his analytical and fair-minded approach, and several principals frequently sought his advice.
His ability and reliability were recognised beyond the university. In 1970 he was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, one of the youngest to hold the post, and played a major role in the introduction of a common MRCP examination and the joint committee on higher medical training. He served on, and often chaired, national bodies influencing health policy and standards. These included the Scottish Council for Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education, the medical sub-committee of the Universities' Grants Committee, the medical committee of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, the General Nursing Council for Scotland, the National Radiological Protection Board, and the Intercollegiate Committee on Nuclear Medicine. He was valued as a safe pair of hands who would deliver sensible results.
In retiral, Edward remained active, contributing his expertise to many voluntary bodies, including Tenovus-Scotland, the St Andrew's Ambulance Association, and the Clyde Estuary Amenity Trust. He chaired the Bothwell Parish Church restoration appeal, reflecting his love of that church and the spiritual comfort it gave him. He wrote and lectured on medical history and philosophy, developing a special interest in the eminent eighteenth-century physician William Cullen, who had also been educated in Hamilton and at Glasgow University.
Edward's extensive contributions to the university and to medicine were recognised by many awards including CBE (1978), honorary DSc (1994), fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, fellowships of various Royal Colleges, and the post of Dean of Faculties at Glasgow (1992-94).
Edward's successful professional life was underpinned and made possible by the support of his beloved wife, Di, (nee Diane Woods) whom he had married in 194. They built a loving and stable home, in which their four children (Patricia, Helen, David, and Diana) flourished. Many of us were concerned at how Edward would cope after Di's untimely death in 1996. He did so because of his own resilience and the unstinting dedication of his family.
The support of his family was particularly important during Edward's prolonged last illness. He bore stoically the discomfort and the increasing disability it brought.
Edward McGirr was a distinguished and a wise man. His view of what medicine is about is best summed up by the final paragraph of an unpublished paper he wrote in 1995:
''Somehow, I feel that, if he is ever to penetrate 'life's' ultimate mystery, man will require a wider and deeper vision than that of empiricism. In his search for enlightenment, it would seem that he may have to relearn that there are other paths to the truth besides the scientific method. He can no more afford to ignore the principles of the philosophers than reject the discoveries of the scientists.'' Edward valued the sciences and all that they have brought and will bring to medicine, but also believed that art and philosophy have an important role in good medicine. Edward McGirr was a most accomplished physician and academic who had a national influence. He was also a much loved man, with a wide range of friends. He is survived by his four children and 11 grandchildren.
Professor Edward McGirr, CBE; born June 15, 1916, died May 12, 2003.