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Biographical entry MacFarlane, David Aloysius (1921 - 2013)

BSc Cardiff 1941; MB BCh Wales 1944; MRCS and FRCS 1949; MCh 1956; FRCS Edin 1985; FRCS Glasgow 1986.

21 June 1921
13 December 2013
Cheam, Surrey
General surgeon


David Macfarlane was a consultant general surgeon at Sutton and Cheam Hospital and at St Stephen's and Princess Beatrice hospitals in the Westminster group, and also an author and outstanding teacher. He was born in Glasgow on 21 June 1921, the only son of George Souttar Macfarlane, a consulting engineer and marine surveyor, and Rosalie Macfarlane née Crumlish, a teacher. His early education from 1928 to 1930 was at St Aloysius College in Glasgow and, when his parents moved to Wales, he continued at St Illtyd's College, Cardiff. David was a natural sportsman, becoming top of sports at his school on two occasions. He was also head of his house.

After three years of basic science education at the University College, Cardiff, he gained a BSc before entering the Welsh National School of Medicine in 1941. His teachers in these clinical years included Alexander Kennedy, the professor of medicine, who stressed the value of taking a good history and the importance of eliciting physical signs, and Gilbert Strachan, an excellent teacher in midwifery and in surgery. David secured his first house appointment at Cardiff Royal Infirmary during the Second World War, some six months before he qualified in 1944. This was a great tribute to his early promise in medicine.

After further house appointments in Cardiff, including a spell on the professorial unit in obstetrics and gynaecology, he carried out his National Service, joining the RNVR as a surgeon lieutenant. Deciding on a career in surgery, and in preparation for the primary FRCS, he demonstrated anatomy at the University of Wales. He then completed registrar appointments in Bridgend and later at St James' Hospital, Balham, London, where Norman Tanner had gained an international reputation in gastric surgery. David was to confirm that Tanner taught his trainees the 'principles of good surgery by example'. During this period he also worked as a clinical assistant at St Mark's Hospital.

To further his surgical education he travelled to the USA for a year on a Fulbright scholarship and a US Public Health fellowship. He was privileged to work as a research assistant at Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, with Francis D Moore, the well-known surgeon-in-chief to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. He was also attached to J Hartwell Harrison, the urological surgeon.

Returning to the United Kingdom, he gained a valuable senior registrar appointment at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He was surgical tutor to St Bartholomew's Hospital in London from 1955 to 1960, combining this with duties as casualty surgeon at St Bartholomew's from 1958 to 1960.

In 1958 he was appointed to Sutton and Cheam Hospital, and went on to serve it loyally for 28 years. From 1960 to 1986 he was also on the consultant staff of St Stephen's and Princess Beatrice hospitals in the Westminster group. In connection with the latter, he was an honorary senior lecturer to Westminster and then Westminster and Charing Cross medical schools. He held honorary consultant posts to the Newspaper Press Fund, and was on two occasions in the 1980s visiting consultant surgeon to the Maadi Armed Forces Hospital, Cairo.

His teaching experience was put to good use when he became the senior editor, with Lewis P Thomas, of the very successful student textbook Textbook of surgery (Edinburgh, London, E & S Livingstone, 1964). Contributors to the chapters were all young consultants, and the first edition in 1964 was followed by five further editions.

At the Royal College of Surgeons David Macfarlane was awarded a Hunterian professorship in 1958 and lectured on the cancer of the adrenal cortex. This was published in the Annals and incorporated some clinical research from his valuable year spent in the USA ('Cancer of the adrenal cortex; the natural history, prognosis and treatment in a study of fifty-five cases'. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1958 Sep;23[3]:155-86). He also served on the Court of Examiners from 1977 to 1989, becoming chairman.

He was an examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and for the Glasgow College, and gained honorary fellowships from both. His expertise as an examiner was valued at the universities of Glasgow, Liverpool and London, and overseas in Singapore.

A member of many societies, he became vice president of the section of surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was a member of the Athenaeum Club and the Royal Navy Medical Club, and, reflecting another interest outside medicine, a member of the Walton Heath Golf Club.

He joined the City of London circle of the Catenian Association, a Catholic organisation, in 1964, and later became president and provincial councillor. In 1986, he was invested in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and for seven years was president of the Southwark section. In 2003 he was promoted to the rank of knight grand cross.

David Macfarlane was very happily married to Moira (née O'Sullivan), a nurse whom he met when serving in the Navy. Her uncle, D P Fitzgerald, was professor of anatomy at the University of Cork, Ireland. David and Moira had five children - Rosalie, Jane, Peter, Ian and Kate - and six grandchildren.

Following his retirement from the NHS in June 1986, David enjoyed travel and played golf regularly into his 90th year. Sadly for many years he was without his wife, Moira, who died in 2002. He was very interested in the hospice movement. After 35 years on the staff of St Anthony's Hospital, Cheam, he was asked to be chairman of St Raphael's Hospice and remained in post for 10 years. For these services he was awarded a papal knighthood in March 1991, being later promoted to knight commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great.

David Macfarlane died peacefully at his home in Cheam, Surrey, at the age of 92 on 13 December 2013, following a short illness. A requiem mass was well attended by his family and many friends, and was a fitting tribute to a surgeon who had contributed so much to medical education and surgery.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Rosalie Macfarlane].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England