Obituary: Dr Ian James Burns, medic who enjoyed a distinguished and diverse career spanning 59 years

Dr Ian James Burns, Born: 25 March, 1932. Died: 12 May, 2019 in Inverness, aged 87

Dr Ian James Burns toured Asia as a Ships Surgeon aboard the cargo vessel Adrastus in 1956

Born in Glasgow to parents James Aloysius Burns and Mabel Thomson Dick of Rutherglen, Ian schooled at Burnside Primary School and St Aloysius College, Glasgow, gaining entry to Glasgow School of Medicine in 1949 aged only 17. Qualifying in 1955, his pre-registration year was spent as house officer at Stonehouse Hospital, Lanarkshire and Glasgow Western Infirmary A&O, gaining full medical registration in August 1956.

A nautical enthusiast, Ian enjoyed a spell in 1956 touring Asia as ship’s surgeon aboard the cargo ship Adrastus.

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Selecting anaesthetics as his speciality, Ian quickly progressed from Junior HO Anaesthesia at Glasgow Royal Infirmary to Senior HO at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1957.

Having spent three years as Registrar Anaesthetist at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, he moved to Inverness in 1961 as Senior Registrar Anaesthetist at the Royal Northern Infirmary and Raigmore Hospital.

In those early days in Inverness, Ian met a young orthopaedic nurse from Perth, Katie McEwan. Marrying in October 1964, they soon moved to Wick, their home to this day.

Ian’s primary role for the next 32 years was as Specialist Anaesthetist to the Caithness Hospitals, however in 1970 he began broadening his expertise: Clinical Assistant to both A&E (1970-93), Neonatal Paediatrics (1987-92), and as Hospital Practitioner, Neonatal Paediatrics (1992-96) at the new Caithness General Hospital.

Neonatal Paediatrics was a source of great reward for Ian. Indeed, he was instrumental in developing a regional neonatal capability, working closely with Raigmore Hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit, providing a critical service for the Highlands and Islands and, with Ian flying as specialist neonatal practitioner, a welcome helicopter air link to Aberdeen and Inverness.

In parallel to his specialist roles, Ian also began in general practice in Wick in 1964, firstly as principal until 1975, when the practice grew to have multiple partners. The practice operates to this day as Riverview Medical Practice. Ian was also Honorary Tutor to Aberdeen University Department of General Medicine, occasionally lecturing.

Having retired from general practice in 1994 and anaesthesia and paediatrics in 1996, Ian continued with part time locum cover throughout the Highlands and as government medical assessor.

A distinguished and diverse medical career, liked and respected by the community he loyally served, Ian finally hung up his stethoscope in 2014 after 59 years of service. A splendid medical innings.

For Ian to have charted such a fine career was a remarkable feat in the face of adversity. From a young age, otosclerosis gave him hearing difficulties which worsened over time proving a lifelong struggle for him.

Whilst aided to some extent by hearing aid technology in later life, in his early education he developed compensatory measures, such as lip reading, to keep abreast with tutor and class alike. A severe impediment that he neatly circumnavigated.

A lover of arts and languages, proficient in many European tongues, Ian was a well-read man influenced by an academic work ethic. Such learning depth gave him grounding to shine as an accomplished orator, often holding audiences captivated with poetry recitations, history and literature quotations.

Ian had a huge passion for classical music. Amongst the many musical instruments he played over the years he was an extremely capable pianist and organist, playing organ at St Joachim’s Church, Wick for many years. He played piano in a long-standing classical trio performing at several local music festivals. He also sang bass in Wick Choral Society, performing with them throughout the event calendar. The society gave a heartfelt rendition of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus at his final mass.

Ian was an avid sportsman, embracing many activities, including sailing, windsurfing and water-skiing, as well as cycling, golf, squash and tennis.

The advent of mobile phone technology in the 90s gave Ian a welcome means of being able to pursue his water sports whilst juggling hospital and practice “on call”; it wasn’t uncommon for him to attend call outs donning a wetsuit! Both colleagues and community soon embraced this occasional peculiarity of attire, no doubt part of the reason Ian felt so much at home in Caithness.

Ian’s greatest sporting passion was skiing. Joining the Snowcats ski club in 1969, he was a loyal member and leader for 50 years. He was also a keen member of the Caithness Classic Motorcycling Club and over the years owned many different motorcycles. Once asked to make a grand entrance and speech at a colleague’s retiral celebration at a local function suite, Ian gladly accepted. Having been given his cue to ride his motorcycle into the assembled party, Ian, being unfamiliar with the local pubs, famously boldly drove his motorcycle in full leathers and costume into the wrong pub, much to the bemusement of the shocked patrons!

A remarkable character, lover of life and academia, with ever an insightful reply, Ian will be dearly missed by so many he touched throughout his life. Ian and Katie lived in Wick, Caithness overlooking the North Sea for 55 years, which perhaps hints at the origin of one of his favourite poems – D’Avalos’ Prayer by John Masefield

Ian’s wife Katie, and family, express their deepest appreciation to the exceptional staff at Raigmore Hospital Coronary Care Unit, Inverness for their care of Ian.

Sincere thanks are also given to the many friends and colleagues who shared cards, prayers and kind words.

Ian’s Funeral Mass was held on 24 May 2019, in St Joachim’s Church, Wick. Ian was laid to rest in Wick Cemetery.

He is survived by his loving wife, their four children Jane-Anne, Niall, Mairi and Michael, and his seven grandchildren. Condolences and memories may be shared at [email protected]