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Biographical entry Gibson, Thomas (1915 - 1993)

Hon FRCS 1987; MB ChB Glasgow 1938; FRFPS Glasgow 1955; FRCS Edinburgh 1941; FRCS Glasgow 1962; DSc 1972; FRS Edinburgh 1974; FRACS 1977.

24 November 1915
13 February 1993
Plastic surgeon


Tom Gibson was born on 24 November 1915, the son of Thomas Gibson and his wife Mary, née Munn. He was educated at Paisley Grammar School and Glasgow University, whence he graduated MB ChB in 1938. Following junior house appointments at Glasgow Royal Infirmary he became assistant lecturer in surgery and then joined the Medical Research Council Burns Unit in Glasgow from 1942 to 1944. He obtained the FRCS Edinburgh in 1941. During his time at the University Gibson had been identified as a potential high flyer but his brilliant experiments on the fate of skin grafts undertaken in collaboration with Peter Medawar established his reputation as a first-class investigator. Their joint paper on the fate of skin homografts in man, published in the Journal of Anatomy in 1943, demonstrated that whereas skin autografts took permanently, allografts taken from another individual perished after a few days. These classic experiments were the first to establish conclusively that this phenomenon and the associated 'second set' rejection were due to an immune response by the recipient. These observations were to form the basis of much of Medawar's later work on organ transplantation, for which he won the Nobel Prize at a later date. Sadly, Gibson's contribution was never officially recognised by the award of an appropriate honour.

In 1944 he married Patricia Muriel McFeat and they had two sons and two daughters. Gibson served in the RAMC from 1944 to 1947, initially with a maxillofacial surgical unit in Northern Europe and later as the commanding officer of No 1 Indian Maxillofacial Unit in India.

Following his return to civilian life he became a consultant plastic surgeon in Glasgow and director of the splendid plastic and maxillofacial department at Canniesburn Hospital, which under his aegis became a centre of international repute. Gibson was a visiting Professor of the Bioengineering Group of the University of Strathclyde from 1966 to 1985 and was awarded an honorary DSc in 1972. He became FRFPS Glasgow in 1955, FRCS Glasgow in 1962 and was elected FRS Edinburgh in 1974. From 1963 to 1973 he served as honorary librarian of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and was elected its President from 1977 to 1978, the first plastic surgeon to be thus honoured. Tom had a great reputation as a teacher who gave marvellous support and encouragement to his juniors and he was delighted when one of his protégés, Ian McGregor, succeeded him as Director of the Canniesburn Unit from 1980 to 1986. This pleasure was further enhanced when McGregor became the second plastic surgeon to be elected President of the Glasgow Royal College from 1984 to 1986.

Gibson was elected an honorary FRACS in 1977 and an honorary FRCS in 1987. He made numerous contributions to medical and surgical journals and his book Modern trends in plastic surgery was published in two volumes in 1964 and 1966 respectively. He was editor of the British Journal of Plastic Surgery from 1968 to 1979.

With his shock of auburn hair later tinged with grey, Gibson was a genial extrovert with a ready smile and was gifted with great ability allied with foresight and common sense. His contribution to the science and art of plastic surgery was immense. His recreations were history, handicrafts and horticulture. He was especially proud of Scotland and his Scottish ancestry and for many years 'played in the haggis' on Burns' night with a splendid rendering on his violin.

He died on 13 February 1993 at the age of 77.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Citation delivered by Sir Reginald Murley on the presentation of his Honorary Fellowship, 8 July 1987].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England