Scotsman obituaries: Andrew Armstrong, Scottish physician and hillwalker

Andrew Armstrong, hospital physician: Born: 3 December 1929 in Edinburgh. Died: 31 March 2021 in Dumfries, aged 91

Andrew Armstrong was a lifelong lover of the Great Outdoors

Andrew Armstrong died in Allanbank Care Home, Dumfries, after a long illness. He was an Edinburgh boy, educated at George Heriot’s and graduating MB, ChB at the university in 1952, only five years after the birth of the NHS.

He served his first job as the House Officer in surgery under Mr J Neilson at Dumfries Infirmary before being whisked away to a stint in National Service. Andrew served with the RAMC – mostly in Trieste for the two years of his service – before returning to his formal medical training, which he resumed in Dumfries Infirmary under Dr J Laurie. He then had some training in obstetrics and gynaecology before working for a year (1956 - 1957) as a trainee GP in New Galloway.

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But his future lay in hospital medicine and he returned to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, where he worked for six years in the medical wards until his return to his alma mater, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

There he served as registrar and senior registrar under Dr James Cameron and Dr J Halliday Croom. He was appointed consultant physician in general medicine at Dumfries in 1968, where he worked until his retirement in 1991.

Andrew was always interested in research and during his time in training he studied longterm anticoagulant control, the prevalence of coronary artery disease and some aspects of tuberculosis. He was at Edinburgh when coronary care first started and along with his Dumfries colleagues was instrumental in the birth of a coronary care unit in Dumfries and Galloway.

He was an avid teacher for both medical students, trainee doctors and nurses. Whole generations of nurses passing through the Dumfries system will remember his lectures. My wife, who is a “Pelican”, remembers his lectures from her time in training in Edinburgh.

He was a Fellow of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow Colleges and an examiner and invigilator for the membership well into retirement. First and foremost, though, he was a user-friendly physician commanding the respect and appreciation of patients and all who worked with him.

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Andrew was a family man – he and wife Norah had two sons and a daughter . Norah, also a medical graduate (Glasgow), was a keen birdwatcher in her later life and she persuaded Andrew to build a pond to attract wildlife on the ranch which they had designed and built on an isolated country road on the outskirts of Lochmaben in 1970; the home which Andrew occupied until he needed residential care at the end of his days. He had a big, well-kept garden with a swimming pool and he owned some of the surrounding fields and woods. He kept sheep, owned a small grey Ferguson tractor and built a barn. None of these pursuits detracted from his commitment and application to his medical duties!

His interests were extensive; he was a founder member of Moffat Mountain Rescue team. His first love was hillwalking and he regularly joined a group from Dumfries Infirmary on their annual jaunt, which often involved sleeping in bothies, and he did this long into his retirement. He did a Himalayan Trek in 1980 which involved some very high altitudes, without oxygen. The whole party were smitten with gastroenteritis early into the trek and I remember Andrew telling me in the coffee room on his return that they had had to bury one of their number when he died – they just covered the body with stones; this was long before mobile phones.

He loved Classical music and rarely missed a concert at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall (a 170-mile round trip from Lochmaben). He did start to build a harpsichord but never completed it – a rare failure I’m sure in a life which was so otherwise full and so effective. He was a regular contributor at Lockerbie Speakers’ Club and an avid follower of Robert Burns; he loved words and language and their proper employment. In the winter months curling was a regular pursuit, with him playing for the local Three Counties Medical team and representing Edinburgh College. He “bought” a debenture seat at Murrayfield and regularly travelled to watch Scotland, long after many of us chose to watch the matches by our firesides!

Norah died of breast cancer in her mid-sixties. It wasn’t very long into Andrew’s retirement and he lovingly cared for her at home until she died. It is the only time in my friendship with him that I remember him being “down”. He was always positive and optimistic, even in adversity.

Life brightened again when he met Rhoda MacSween – a girl from Skye and the widow of the doctor who succeeded him as the trainee in the New Galloway practice. They re-met at the funeral of the widow of their trainer in New Galloway. They got together soon after the funeral and the rest is history; Andrew and Rhoda were good for each other and they lived very happily in Andrew’s home of longstanding until the last months of his life when Rhoda could no longer care for him at home.

Former colleagues will remember Andrew with great fondness. Rhoda his wife, and Andrew, Christopher and Heather, his children, will miss his gracious, loving and kindly presence. A great man indeed! He was like a big brother to me.

JOHN B WILSON

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