Andrew Rae Gilchrist

(7 July 1899 – 1 March 1995)
College Role: 


Andrew Rae Gilchrist was born on 7 July 1899 in Northern Ireland, although his early education was in Edinburgh. He attended the University of Edinburgh from 1917 to 1921 where he obtained his qualifications in medicine. Gilchrist became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1929 at the age of thirty. He received a gold medal for his MD thesis in 1933.

Gilchrist held a number of junior hospital posts; Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, East London Hospital for Children, neurology training in Queen’s Square, London and Rockefeller University Hospital, New York. He returned to Edinburgh where, as fate would have it, four senior physicians died of pneumonia. At the age of thirty-one, Gilchrist was appointed to the consultant staff of the Royal Infirmary. Cardiology was a new specialty in this period and his early appointment lent him to a lifelong interest in heart disease.

Gilchrist became an expert in electrocardiography and became an international authority on heart block. He is known as the founder of cardiology in Scotland. Gilchrist influenced the learning and clinical judgement of medical students for more than thirty years. He was a founder member of the British Heart Foundation. He retired in 1964 after a major coronary thrombosis, but survived another thirty years. Gilchrist was married twice, first in 1931 and second in 1975. Gilchrist was the longest surviving fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was made and Honorary Fellow in 1990. He died in his home in Edinburgh on 1 March 1995.

Notable Achievements

Gilchrist was made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1944.

Gilchrist was a founder member of the British Heart Foundation in 1959.

Gilchrist was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1957 to 1960.

Key Publications

Gilchrist published extensively on subjects of cardiology and cardiac issues. In 1930 Gilchrist published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal the first seven cases of coronary thrombosis recorded in Europe.

Ronald Haxton Girdwood

(19 March 1917 – 25 April 2006)
College Role: 


Ronald Haxton Girdwood will still be remembered as much for his modest and unassuming style as for his intellect. His distinguished place in medicine is based on a lifetime of professional achievement extending from his undergraduate performance at the University of Edinburgh to his presidency of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh just prior to his retirement.

Born in Arbroath, Ronald Girdwood benefitted from Scottish philanthropy by winning a Carnegie scholarship which allowed him to enter the University of Edinburgh. The Carnegie Trust had every reason to be satisfied with their decision as Girdwood graduated with an honours degree. He was awarded the William Leslie Gold Medal and was named Ettles scholar as the most distinguished medical graduate of his year.

As with all young doctors of his generation, he was called to military service in World War II, serving mainly in India, reaching the rank of Lt Colonel. Outbreaks of tropical sprue, characterised by diarrhoea, glossitis, weight loss and anaemia occurred. Girdwood diagnosed the anaemia as megaloblastic but because folic acid was still unknown he used injections of liver extract and blood transfusions to keep all his patients alive. Eventually this anaemia was shown to be due to folate deficiency. In the course of his work in India, he met and married Mary Williams, a nursing Sister in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service. They were a devoted couple for 62 years.

After the war, he continued his research on the megaloblastic anaemias in Edinburgh, at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and at Yale University at New Haven in the USA. The academic excellence of his research work resulted in a Gold Medal for his MD thesis in 1954, and he came to be held in high regard by his haematologist colleagues. He succeeded Professor Sir Derek Dunlop as professor of therapeutics in the University of Edinburgh in 1962 and held the Chair until his retiral in 1982; he was awarded the Cullen Prize by the Edinburgh College in 1970; he was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1975 to 1982, overseeing the expansion of the medical school. He was admitted to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1978. As time passed, he was increasingly involved with administrative duties, and though he loved to complain about this, he delighted in his committee work. Always concerned about drug side effects, he was an obvious choice as a member of the newly established Committee on Safety of Medicines. He published extensively during his medical career, with over 100 papers and contributions to many textbooks.

Ronald Girdwood became President of the College in 1982 and he held this position until 1985. His presidency saw the building of the Queen Mother Conference Centre, and this was a manifestation of the increasing importance of postgraduate medical education in the College, though the establishment of an Education Department did not occur until 1992. Under his presidency the first College overseas meeting took place and he had a particular interest in the College’s overseas Fellows, and travelled extensively to see them. When he retired in 1985, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to medicine.

Notable Achievements

Girdwood was awarded the Cullen Prize by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Cin 1970.

He was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1975 to 1982.

He was admitted to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1978.

Girdwood was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1982 to 1985.


Previously published in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2013), 43: 93
Author: N D C Finlayson.

James Gregory

(January 1753 – 2 April 1821)
College Role: 


James Gregory was born in January 1753 in Aberdeen. His early education was in Aberdeen before enrolling at the University of Edinburgh where he did an arts course. Gregory spent a year, 1766 to 1767, at Christ Church, Oxford. He returned to Edinburgh in 1767 to study medicine under William Cullen, Alexander Monro secundus, Joseph Black and John Hope, as well as his own father, John Gregory. His father died while Gregory was in the middle of his course and he took over his father’s lectureship, becoming a temporary professor as a student. He graduated MD in 1774 and then spent two years studying medicine in Leiden, Paris and Italy.

In 1776 Gregory returned to Edinburgh where he became Professor of the Institute of Medicine. In a very short time he became famous both as a physician and as a teacher. Like many subsequent professors of medicine, he wrote a textbook of medicine that became the standard work and brought him international fame – Conspectus Medicinae Theoretical. Gregory took on a leading role in the teaching at the university while simultaneously establishing a private practice.

Perhaps the high point of Gregory’s distinguished career was in 1790, when he was appointed joint professor with Cullen for the rest of his life, with the right to succeed Cullen as the sole occupant of the chair on the latter’s retirement or death. Whatever their academic relationship, both men often disagreed most vocally in matters related to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which was going through turbulent times. Gregory was known as a superb lecturer and by 1818, owing to his growing practice, he employed the help of his nephew, William Pulteney Alison, to assist with lectures.

Like so many of his contemporaries Gregory was argumentative, quarrelsome and often feuding (‘at war’ as he said himself) although, to be fair, his disagreements were often justified and his views worth listening to. For example, since the Edinburgh Infirmary had opened in 1729, College Fellows had taken it in turn to provide medical care to its patients, each serving for a month before being replaced by another. This was clearly not a satisfactory arrangement, as Gregory pointed out. He managed to get agreement that the infirmary managers should appoint permanent staff, each to serve for a fixed period of ten years.

Perhaps the most colourful thing Gregory did was to assault a fellow physician, James Hamilton, with his cane. For this he was fined £100 but, far from being contrite, he said he would gladly pay double for the chance to do it again.

Between 1798 and 1801 Gregory was President of the College. Sadly his association with the Edinburgh College came to an end in 1809 when he was suspended for divulging confidential matters relating to the College and refused to apologise for doing so.

Gregory and his first wife lived in St John Street, but after her untimely death and his second marriage in 1796 he moved to Canaan Lodge, then in the country but now part of Morningside. It was in his garden there that he grew Turkestan rhubarb used in the mixture associated with his name, Gregory’s Powder, which he recommended as a laxative and tonic. There were no children from his first marriage but 11 from the second. Gregory had a riding accident in 1820, sustaining fractured ribs and a hydrothorax, and never fully recovered. He died in 1821 and was buried in Canongate Churchyard.

Notable Achievements

In 1790, Gregory was appointed Chair of Practice of Physic at the University of Edinburgh.

From 1798 to 1801, Gregory was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

In 1799, Gregory was appointed first physician to the king in Scotland

In 1820 Gregory’s commission of first physician to the king in Scotland was renewed by George IV.

Key Publications

  • Conspectus medicinae theoreticae (1788)
  • Philosophical and Literary Essays (1792)
  • Memorial to the Managers of the Royal Infirmary (1800)
  • Review of the Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh (1804)