Obituary: Lindsay Davidson MD - Wise and energetic Scottish physician who treated the Queen and Idi Amin

Born: 18 June, 1926, in Edinburgh. Died: 1 November, 2011, in Wales, aged 85

LINDSAY Davidson was a physician who enjoyed a truly global reputation in a career that spanned four continents and almost 100 countries.

He led medical faculties in Australia and what was then Rhodesia, lectured from New York to Delhi and New South Wales and treated patients from Idi Amin to the Queen.

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Throughout it all he was generous, gentlemanly and charming. A man for whom the phrase “phone a friend” could have been coined, he was endlessly happy to oblige, responding to any requests for help by simply opening up his address book and contacting the appropriate medical friend anywhere in the world.

He prolonged lives with those phone calls – just as efficiently as he used his own expertise – as the voice on the other end invariably responded: “No problem Lindsay, I’ll sort it.”

It was the kind of reaction he engendered wherever he went. So persuasive and courteous was he that everyone from ward sisters and shop assistants to mechanics and garden centre managers would go the extra mile.

And, latterly, when he found the roles reversed, he evolved into the perfect patient – charming to the ward team and immaculately turned out, sporting a handkerchief in his top pyjama pocket.

Born in Edinburgh’s Northfield Circus, he was educated at George Watson’s College where he was known, both there and later at Edinburgh University, as Tank Davidson.

A passionate Scot and ardent rugby fan who was capped for Scotland – albeit against Uganda – he was described by one friend as being built for strength, not speed.

A top pupil throughout school, he embarked on his studies in medicine in 1943 and, after graduating MB ChB, was one of the first intake on the first day of the NHS in 1948.

It was the first of many firsts throughout his distinguished career: in 1962 he was the first Scotsman to receive the Rockefeller Travel Grant, which took him to the department of medicine at New York’s Colombia University.

He was also the first Dean of the faculty of medicine at the University College of Rhodesia and, during the 1970s, he co-ordinated the first intake of patients at Cardiff’s University of Wales.

His career began with posts as house physician at Edinburgh’s Church of Scotland Deaconess Hospital and house surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before being called up for national service in 1949.

He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and saw active service in Kenya and Uganda, where he treated Idi Amin, the Ugandan army captain who had yet to become the despot. Davidson also served in the Territorial Army, as a medical specialist, for a further six years.

Returning to civvy street in October 1951, he worked in West Hartlepool and Durham before taking a post as medical registrar at the Royal Infirmary, Dundee. In 1954 he went south again, this time as a Luccock research fellow at the department of medicine, King’s College, University of Durham.

From there he went to the University of Birmingham and the United Birmingham Hospitals, where he became a lecturer in medicine. It was a move that paved the way for his career in Rhodesia. By this time he had built up an expertise in cardiopulmonary physiology, gained a doctorate from Birmingham and become a visiting associate in medicine in the cardiopulmonary laboratory of New York’s Columbia University.

In 1962 he was appointed foundation professor of medicine and head of the department of medicine at the University College of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. At the same time he was an honorary professor of medicine at Birmingham University, which sponsored the new Rhodesian medical faculty and awarded its degrees. Davidson planned the curriculum, facilities and staffing and became its first dean of faculty in 1967.

He also continued to practise medicine, as a consultant physician to the Rhodesian Ministry of Health, in both African and non-African hospitals, and developed clinical and tropical research work.

He returned to Scotland in 1969 as senior visiting research fellow in Glasgow University’s bacteriology and immunology department before being appointed consultant physician to the University Hospital of Wales and various other Welsh teaching hospitals.

He spent seven years in Cardiff, where he also ran a private practice and chaired the city’s British Medical Association division.

Then came a move to the other side of the world, as director of the Commonwealth Institute of Health in Sydney and professor at the University of Sydney, where he taught epidemiology, health services research and evaluation.

He was also a consultant in thoracic and tropical medicine at the city’s Royal North Shore Hospital and was heavily involved with the Australian government’s health department as its senior academic and scientific adviser in health services research and policy.

His research commitments continued throughout his career and, while in Australia, included work as a consultant to the Royal Flying Doctor service and as project director of the Vietnam Veterans Herbicide Exposure study.

It was after returning once more to Scotland, and while a consultant in public health medicine for Greater Glasgow Health Board, that he was invited to administer to the Queen.

Discretion precludes further details being made public but the honour was a mark of his standing in the eyes of others and he was already eminently well-qualified, having been elected a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians in Edinburgh, London, Australia and Glasgow.

During this period his many responsibilities included formulating and delivering the board’s Good Hearted Glasgow cardiovascular disease prevention programme.

His career was punctuated by trips as guest lecturer and to seminars all over the world and his list of publications is extensive. And, though he formally retired in the 1980s, he continued to provide consultancy services until he was in his 70s.

Described by one friend as a colleague of “such vigour and ability”, his exuberance also infused his social life.

He was renowned as a generous host, throwing legendary dinner parties, impromptu drinks evenings and Hogmanay celebrations filled with laughter.

A perfect gentleman and wise academic who was fair, consistent and honest, he was ultimately driven by such strong values that he was everyman to everyman.

Divorced from his first wife, he is survived by Gillian, his wife of 36 years, and his children Jane, Gavin and Claire. ALISON SHAW