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Biographical entry McGregor, Ian Alexander (1921 - 1998)

MRCS and FRCS 1950; MB ChB Glasgow 1944; ChM 1972; Hon DSc 1986; FRFPS Glasgow 1951; FRCS Glasgow 1962; Hon FRACS 1977; Hon FRCSI 1984; Hon FRCS Edinburgh 1985; Hon FACS 1986.

6 June 1921
13 April 1998
Plastic surgeon


Ian McGregor was Director of the West of Scotland Plastic Surgery Unit at Cannisburn Hospital and a former President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He was born on 6 June 1921 in Glasgow, the son of a monumental mason and a seamstress, and was educated at North Kelvinside Academy, where he excelled both academically and at sports, especially cricket and athletics. It was here that he first exhibited the love of learning and scholarship that remained throughout his career, and such were his achievements at school that he was awarded a Carnegie scholarship to read medicine at Glasgow University. However, in view of his youth, he read mathematics and English prior to entering medical school in 1939. He graduated with commendation in 1944, and the following year joined the RAMC, serving for three years in Egypt, Palestine and Somaliland, before returning to a post in the department of anatomy at Glasgow, where he met the senior plastic surgeon, Jack Tough, and was offered a registrar post in the burns unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. It was here that he met and married Christeen Mackay and they had three sons, Alan, Alastair and Ian.

In 1952, he began his formal training in plastic surgery and was greatly influenced by Tom Gibson, a pioneering plastic surgeon in the West of Scotland Plastic Surgery Service, Ballochmyle. In 1955, two young surgeons in training, one Scottish and the other English, found themselves fellow travellers on a Cunard liner crossing the Atlantic to centres in the USA. The Scotsman was bound for Cornell University Centre in New York to spend six months with Herbert Conway and the Englishman was headed for Chicago, to spend a year working in Warren Cole's department. These young men spent several evenings watching the sunset, debating whether they were foolish to be undertaking these adventures at that time in their respective careers, when forty to sixty well-trained senior surgical registrars were applying for every reasonable surgical consultant vacancy. Later, both were to freely admit the seminal influence that the time spent in the USA had had on their surgical outlook and careers. Interestingly, the Scotsman, who was of course McGregor, was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1984, at the same time the Englishman, Geoffrey Slaney, was serving as President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Following his return to Scotland, McGregor continued his training as senior registrar in plastic surgery, but as this was a time when there was a severe shortage of consultant posts in the specialty, he accepted an appointment as consultant in charge of the casualty department at Glasgow Royal Infirmary for two years, before being appointed consultant plastic surgeon to the West of Scotland Plastic Surgery Unit, which eventually moved to its present site at Cannisburn Hospital. Following Tom Gibson's retirement, he became director of the Cannisburn unit from 1980 until his own retirement in 1986.

Sadly, McGregor's first wife Christeen died in 1970, and he subsequently married Frances Mary, a lecturer in histopathology at the University of Glasgow. He and Frances shared many common professional interests. They jointly published Cancer of the face and mouth: pathology and management for surgeons (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1986). His legendary love of teaching had inspired him earlier to write his famous book Fundamental techniques of plastic surgery and their surgical application (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone), which was so popular that it ran to nine editions and was translated into four other languages.

Ian's career was a most distinguished one and he was truly one of the giants of British plastic surgery. His contributions to the speciality in general and to head and neck cancer in particular were outstanding. His international reputation was acknowledged worldwide by the many societies and organisations that granted him honorary fellowships, memberships and doctorates. He was President of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons and the Association of Head and Neck Oncologists of Great Britain, in addition to receiving the ultimate accolade when he was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

He was essentially a shy man, with a rather gruff exterior and soft spoken, so that initially he often gave the impression of a very dour Scot, but once this had been overcome he proved to be very warm-hearted and a staunch friend. He had a wry sense of humour, and loved music, especially opera. He was highly intelligent and extremely well read, and these qualities made him a formidable opponent in arguments, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He could be charming, irascible, not one to suffer fools gladly, but was generously prepared to concede a 'hit' from an adversary.

He died peacefully after a short illness on 13 April 1998, survived by his wife, Mary, three sons and four grandchildren. His eldest son, Alan, continues the family tradition as he is Professor of Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Wales in Swansea.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Guardian 12 May 1998; BMJ 1998 317 285, with portrait; Br J Plast Surg 1998 51 408-409; Clin Anat 1999 12 72].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England