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Biographical entry Robson, Sir James Gordon (1921 - 2007)

Kt 1982; CBE 1977; FRCS 1977; MB ChB Glasgow 1944; Hon DSc McGill 1984; Hon DSc Glasgow 1991; Hon FFARACS 1968; Hon FDSRCS 1979; Hon FFARCSI 1980; Hon FRCPC 1988; Hon FRSocMed 1989; Hon FRCPS Glasgow 1993; FRCA.

18 March 1921
Stirling, UK
23 February 2007


Gordon Robson was a former director and professor of anaesthetics at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and Hammersmith Hospital, and the first anaesthetist to be elected vice-president of the college. He was born in Stirling on 18 March 1921, the son of James Cyril Robson and Freda Elizabeth Howard. He was educated at the high school in Stirling, and then Glasgow University. After a six-month house job in obstetrics he joined the RAMC and served in East Africa, where he began his career in anaesthetics.

Following demobilisation in 1948, he returned to Glasgow as senior registrar in anaesthetics. Four years later, he went to Newcastle, as first assistant in the department of anaesthetics, under Edgar Pask, where he wrote his first scientific papers. In 1954 he was appointed as a consultant anaesthetist at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and in 1956 went to McGill University, Montreal, as the Wellcome research professor of anaesthetics. There he carried out research on halothane and the neurophysiology of anaesthetic drugs.

In 1964 he was appointed professor of anaesthetics at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith in 1964, remaining there until he retired in 1986. During this time his department attracted anaesthetists from all over the world, both as trainees and visitors.

He was active in the college, as a member of the board of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, serving as dean from 1973 to 1976. He was elected vice-president of the college in 1977, the first anaesthetist to be appointed to that office. He was chairman of the committee of management of the Institute of Basic Sciences and later master of the Hunterian Institute. When the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges and their Faculties was established he became honorary secretary, serving from 1976 to 1982. During this period he published two reports, establishing the criteria for the diagnosis of brain death, which eliminated the requirement for electro-encephalography or neuroradiological investigations. These proved to be of great value to critical care and organ transplantation units. For a decade, from 1984 to 1994, he was chairman of the Advisory Committee on Distinction Awards.

He held many other appointments, including that of consultant adviser in anaesthetics to the DHSS and honorary consultant to the Army. Among his many honours were the Joseph Clover medal and prize of the Faculty of Anaesthetists and the John Snow medal of the Association of Anaesthetists. He was president of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1986 to 1988.

Gordon Robson married twice. His first wife was Martha Graham Kennedy, by whom he had one son. She died in 1975. He married Jenny Kilpatrick in 1984. He died on 23 February 2007.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Independent 3 April 2007; The Guardian 4 April 2007;; Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol.100, Sept 2007, p.431].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England