An appreciation

CHARLES McEwen was a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Glasgow Eye Infirmary and Gartnavel General Hospital, who also worked in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire; and thus he provided first-class care for those with vision or eye problems in the city and beyond for nearly 50 years.

Starting out in the early days of the NHS he was appointed to a consultant post before he was 30, making him one of the youngest consultants in the country. He helped to influence and shape the ophthalmology services in Glasgow.

He introduced the then highly innovative operating microscope, having persuaded the Marquess of Bute to donate the funds, for use in eye surgery, which stimulated new surgical techniques in ophthalmology.

He also embraced leading-edge surgery for a wide spectrum of conditions, particularly for cataracts and diseases of the cornea.

As a colleague said of him, he was “a bold and courageous surgeon… but without the big ego that usually accompanies such a trait, and with a keenness to teach”.

Charles McEwen was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (UK). He held an Honorary Senior Lecturer post in ophthalmology at the University of Glasgow.

The key focus of his work was to preserve and restore sight to the many thousands of patients he treated over his distinguished career.

One high-profile case received much publicity at the time. The family of a young girl, Marie Queen, who had blind since birth, was told that she would never see. Dr McEwen, using a pioneering technique, restored her sight – a result described, at the time, as a miracle.

His tireless energy, intellect and skill meant that he was popular with his colleagues, trainees and patients alike. He was well-known for his welcoming nature and enthusiasm for his speciality, which inspired his nursing colleagues and orthoptists, as well as the generations of medical students and young doctors he taught and trained throughout his career.

The many tributes received from former colleagues illustrate the essence of a man who was “supportive”, “exceptional”, “indefatigable”, “dynamic”, “respected” and with a “love of people”. He was generous in all regards, especially sharing his knowledge, skills, experience and time.

Patients not only benefited from his skills but remembered him for his kindness and warmth. Several years after he retired he regularly continued to receive messages about the positive effect he had had on the lives of individuals and families.

Dr Charles George McEwen was born and brought up in Denniston. He attended Whitehill School, where he was dux in 1948. He represented his school on the athletics and rugby fields and, outside school, he was a sergeant in the Boys’ Brigade; he was a member of the swimming and water polo teams at Whitehill Baths, and played golf at Alexandra Park.

The first in his family, and the only member of his generation, to go to university, he graduated from Glasgow University in 1953. He was a house doctor in Stobhill General Hospital and the Victoria Infirmary before entering National Service when he was posted to Germany, attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers, serving as Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He retained links with the Corps for the rest of his life.

He was Deacon of the Incorporation of Barbers in 1970, being the longest past-Deacon on record at the time of his death. He was also Deacon of the Incorporation of Tailors of Rutherglen and President of the Rutherglen Rotary Club.

His enjoyment of a game of golf was legendary: he was a life member of Royal Troon Golf Club and Past Captain of Cambuslang and the Glasgow Medical Golf Clubs. He was also a member of Whiting Bay Golf Club on the Isle of Arran. He never managed to crack getting his handicap below four, but had crafted a skilful game, always sharing tips and golfing stories with his fellow players.

The family have a home in Whiting Bay, on his beloved Arran, and spent every year holidaying on the island – playing golf, walking and boating. Charlie, typically, also used his holiday time there to carry out clinics so that the locals would not have to travel to the mainland.

Charlie married Jan (nee Auld) in 1955. They had four children: Sandy, Carrie, Ian and Neil. His love and pride for his family was equally balanced by the positive influence he had on his children and eight grandchildren, all of whom were fortunate to know him into their adult lives. He died suddenly, but peacefully, after a short period of physical decline on February 1.