Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry McMinn, Robert Matthew Hay (1923 - 2012)

FRCS 1978; MB ChB Glasgow 1947; PhD Sheffield 1956; MD Glasgow 1958.

20 September 1923
Auchinleck, Ayrshire
11 July 2012


Robert Matthew Hay McMinn was a leading anatomist, who will always be associated with the medical atlas that bears his name. Known to his friends and colleagues as 'Bob', he was born on 20 September 1923 in Auchinleck, Ayrshire, the only child of Robert Martin McMinn, a local general practitioner, and Elsie Selene McMinn née Kent. A few years later, the family moved to Brighton, where Bob McMinn completed his school education on a scholarship at Brighton College. Following in his father's footsteps, he then studied medicine at Glasgow University, qualifying in 1947. Bob was a keen and accomplished sportsman during his university years, distinguishing himself as a member of the university hockey team and by being crowned in 1944 as the Scottish universities champion in the 440 yards hurdles.

Immediately after completing his house officer postings in Glasgow, Bob McMinn joined the RAF for this National Service. During this period he served in Iraq, as well as in East and West Africa.

He returned to the UK in 1950 and promptly joined the anatomy department of Glasgow University as a demonstrator. This marked the beginning of his career as an anatomist. In 1953 he was appointed as a lecturer in anatomy at Sheffield University, where, three years later, he was awarded a PhD. In 1958, he was awarded an MD (with commendation) by Glasgow University for his research on wound healing. In 1959, while still at Sheffield, Bob was invited by the Royal College of Surgeons of England to give the Arris and Gale lecture.

In 1960 Bob joined the department of anatomy at King's College on the Strand in London as a reader, becoming titular professor in the same department, a few years later. In 1970 he was appointed as the Sir William Collins professor of human and comparative anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the last but one person to occupy this eponymous chair before it was abolished in the 1980s. Alongside the professorship he was also conservator of the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy at the college.

It was during his term of office at the Royal College of Surgeons that Bob McMinn conceived of the idea of producing a pictorial atlas of human anatomy based largely on the outstanding collection of exquisite dissections of the human body that were already on display in the College's Museum of Anatomy. Most of these dissections were the work of D H Tompsett, prosector to the College. In collaboration with Ralph Hutchings, a senior laboratory technical officer and accomplished photographer, Bob McMinn authored A colour atlas of human anatomy (London, Wolfe) in 1977. The atlas is now into its sixth edition. It has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold several million copies worldwide. The fourth and subsequent editions of the atlas have borne the name McMinn's atlas of clinical anatomy, in recognition of Bob's great and lifelong contribution to the teaching of anatomy.

In the late 1980s Bob McMinn accepted from his friend and erstwhile colleague, Raymond Jack Last, the editorship of the very popular textbook, Anatomy - regional and applied (Edinburgh, Churchill), a book that Last first wrote in 1954, and then updated periodically up to and including the seventh edition. Bob edited the eighth and ninth editions. The skilful revision and enrichment of the original text without any loss of the style and spirit of Last's prose was a matter of great pleasure and satisfaction to Jack Last, and ensured the continued popularity of the book.

Bob McMinn was an active member of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland and served, in an honorary capacity, successively as programme secretary and treasurer of the society.

He was also a founding member of the British Association of Clinical Anatomists (BACA), which came into existence in July 1977, and served as the association's very first honorary secretary. In July 2000, during the third joint meeting of the British Association of Clinical Anatomists and the American Association of Clinical Anatomists (AACA) held at St John's College, Cambridge, Bob was awarded the BACA medal 'to recognise and honour his global contribution to the study of anatomy through his research and outstanding publications'.

Bob was awarded a fellowship (by election) of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1978.

In 1948, following his graduation from medical school, Bob married Margaret Grieve Kirkwood, a fellow medical student. In 1995, Bob and his wife Margaret returned to their native Scotland to set up home in the picturesque village of Ardfern on the banks of Loch Craignish in Argyll. They enjoyed their retirement in this small and close community, participating with much enthusiasm in various village activities. Bob died on 11 July 2012 at the age of 88, after a femoral fracture sustained in a fall. His wife Margaret predeceased him by a year. They were survived by a son and a daughter, and two grandchildren.

Vishy Mahadevan

The Royal College of Surgeons of England