Professor of pathology

Born: February 2, 1935;

Died December 11, 2015

PROFESSOR Sir Roddy MacSween, who has died aged 80, was a professor of pathology at the University of Glasgow and a specialist in liver disease, a field in which he had an international reputation. Throughout his career he was also an outstanding teacher in lectures, tutorials and in the autopsy room, where he taught pathology as a clinical subject and as the basis of clinical medicine and surgery.

Roderick Norman McIver MacSween was born in Kinloch, Lewis, a son of the manse; his mother was a nurse. A native Gaelic speaker, he learnt English, his second tongue, at Knochiandu Primary School and continued his education at Broadford Junior Secondary School in Skye and Inverness Royal Academy.

He proceeded to the University of Glasgow and graduated with a BSc with honours in physiology in 1956 and MB ChB in 1959. During his undergraduate years he he debated in the Glasgow University Union with, among others, Donald Dewar and served as president of the University Liberal Club.

After house jobs at Glasgow’s Royal and Western Infirmaries, he gained experience in clinical medicine, notably in infectious diseases and virology, and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians of both Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1964. He chose pathology as a career and in 1963 joined Professor Daniel F Cappell’s department at the Western Infirmary.Professor Cappell had recognised the value of specialisation in the study and diagnosis of different organ systems, and, stimulated by his observations on the post mortem findings of patients with hemochromatosis (a condition of iron overload of the tissues including the liver), Sir Roddy elected to develop an interest in liver disease.

He became a lecturer in 1965 and after gaining his MRCPath in 1967 a postgraduate fellowship allowed him to study at the University of Colorado Medical Centre in Denver. Here he gained further expertise in hepatology and gastroenterology and developed his interest in iron metabolism.

On his return to the Western Infirmary in 1970, he was awarded a Welcome Senior Research Fellowship and worked with Professor John Anderson who had succeeded Professor Cappell as head of department. Sir Roddy gained an MD with honours in 1973 with a thesis on Clinico-Pathological and Immunological Studies in Liver Disease. Rising rapidly through the ranks of senior lecturer, reader and titular professor, he succeeded John Anderson as the sixth holder of the chair of pathology at the Western Infirmary and head of department in 1984, positions he held until his retirement in 1999.

He had become a skilled interpreter of liver biopsies with a national and international reputation and an increasing world-wide referral practice. In 1978 he was invited to join a group of international hepatopathologists which had become established under the aegis of the European Association for the Study of the Liver. This panel was known as the Gnomes as their first meeting had been held in Zurich.

The following year Sir Roddy published the first edition of Pathology of the Liver with Peter Anthony and Peter Scheuer as co-editors. This authoritative textbook rapidly became a standard for both pathologists and clinicians.

In 1992 he edited the 13th Edition of Muir’s Textbook of Pathology. He was editor of the prestigious journal Histopathology from 1985 to 1996 and president of its parent body, the British Division of the International Academy of Pathology from 1989 to 1991. He edited seven volumes of the standard review book Recent Advances in Histopathology.

In 1985 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and served on its council from 1992-1995. His abilities led to him becoming vice-president of the Royal College of Pathologists from 1995-1996 and he served as president from 1996-1999. He also served as chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges from 1998-2000. He retired in 1999 and was knighted in 2000 for services to medicine and pathology.

He was delighted to receive a DSc from his alma mater in 2007.

Roddy MacSween always worked extremely hard: at the time of his knighthood he observed “I suppose I am a workaholic.” He formed friendships easily, and a continual stream of visitors from around the world would spend time in the department learning the art of liver biopsy interpretation by studying his collection of cases.

His energetic style extended beyond his professional life. Despite taking up golf as an adult his game developed rapidly gaining, at its apogee, a handicap of five. He gardened and hill-walked and joined the marathon running craze of the early eighties until his knees sent him a warning message after he completed his first course in 1984. He was the president of the Bridgeton Burns Club in 1983/4.

He married Marjory Brown, a fellow medical student, in 1961. Marjory, a dermatologist and herself a fine golfer, supported him in all his professional activities including providing generous hospitality to his many visitors. They restored a ruined cottage at Southend in Kintyre where they spent most family holidays with their two children Ruth, also a dermatologist, and Gordon, an engineer and business consultant whom he taught to play golf from an early age. The pupil surpassed the master to the master’s great delight.

In retirement Sir Roddy continued to be much in demand. A member of the General Medical Council from 1999-2003, his charitable works included serving as chairman of Tenovus Scotland, chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee of the Children’s Liver Foundation and as a committee member of the British Lung Foundation (Scotland). He was chair of the Unrelated Live Transplant Regulatory Authority and president of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow.

He is survived by Marjory, his two children and five grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in The University Chapel, University of Glasgow on February 19 at 11 a.m.