Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Smillie, Gavin Douglas (1926 - 2003)

MRCS and FRCS 1962; MB ChB Glasgow 1949; DObst RCOG 1954; LRCP 1962; FRCS Edinburgh 1962; FRCPS Glasgow 1961.

Glasgow, UK
6 November 2003
General surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Gavin Smillie (formerly Smellie) was a consultant general and vascular surgeon and honorary clinical lecturer at the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow. He was born in Glasgow in 1926, the son of William, a geologist, and Janet, a school teacher. He spent his early years in Argentina, where his father was helping to develop an oilfield, but returned to Scotland at the age of seven to live in Cove on the Clyde coast. He was educated at Greenock Academy and Glasgow University, qualifying in 1949.

After junior posts, he did his National Service in the Royal Air Force and then returned to specialise in surgery. He was a surgical registrar at the Victoria Infirmary in 1961 and a senior registrar in 1963. Interested in vascular surgery, he was awarded a travelling fellowship to the United States, where he trained in the vascular units of Michael Debakey and Denton Cooley.

In 1968, he was appointed to the Victoria Infirmary as their first vascular surgeon. He set up their intensive care unit, at a time when such units were in their infancy. His inventive streak led him to introduce, among other things, the use of a Fogarty catheter to clear biliary and salivary duct obstruction, and a rubber ring tourniquet for use in operations on the digits. He also worked with the regional neurosurgical unit on refining techniques of carotid endarterectomy.

He was a respected clinical teacher and examiner, and a regional tutor for the Edinburgh College. He had a calm presence and enormous patience, which he combined with a pawky sense of humour.

He had the unique ability of being able to create vivid pictures using concise but humorous prose, but few knew that he wrote short stories for the Glasgow Herald and the Scots Magazine under the nom-de-plume of Gavin Douglas. For years he was the editor of the hospital quarterly magazine Viewsbeat. He was also an accomplished painter and often used his artistic talents to illustrate his operative notes. He was interested in music and – in his younger days – a keen skier.

He retired in 1987 and died on 6 November 2003, from Alzheimer’s disease. He married twice, firstly to Muriel, by whom he had two daughters, and, secondly, to Elizabeth. He had one granddaughter.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2004 328 53, with portrait; information from Ian S Smith.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England