Scotsman Obituaries: Roderick Macleod, Army doctor turned respected local GP​

Dr Roderick Macleod MB ChB, doctor. Born: 14 November 1945. Died: 20 December 2022, aged 77

Roderick (Roddy) Macleod was an Army doctor and then a single-handed GP in Ballachulish and Glen Coe for 25 years. He followed in the steps of Dr Lachlan Grant in 1900 and then Dr William MacKenzie from 1945. Together they provided a century of service to Ballachulish and Glen Coe.

MacLeod published an important historical and personal reflection of his illustrious predecessor in Dr Lachlan Grant of Ballachulish, His Life and Times. Its subtitle, “Talent and Tenacity”, also sums up Roddy’s own life. He was, “indeed”, as he would say in conversation, the archetypal single-handed Highland GP. He had a quick wit and a twinkle in his eye as he delivered his strong political convictions and observations of medical life.

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Roddy was born on the Isle of Skye in 1945 to Roderick, a joiner and crofter, and Christy MacLeod (nee Morrison). Young Roddy attended Portree High School. He had four siblings and his early life was spent on the remote croft at Portnalong – this was before the opening of the Skye Bridge. He was steeped in the values of traditional island culture.

The nattily dressed Dr Roddy Macleod always had a quick wit and a twinkle in his eye

World War Two had just finished, so military service and respect for the Union was revered. He spoke Gaelic in the family, did well at school and was the first of his family to go to university in 1964. Students of modest means were funded by government grants and social mobility assured. Whilst in Aberdeen, he became President of the University Celtic Society.

He graduated in 1970 and completed his medical and surgical “house jobs” where he met Maggie Richmond, who was the ward sister in Woodend Hospital. They wed in 1976. Roddy had gained a short service commission as Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corp (RAMC) while at University. His postgraduate training began with the RAMC college at Millbank in London. He was first posted to be Regimental Medical Officer to the First Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders at Fort George Inverness.

In 1972, the height of the Troubles, his Army service included active service tours to South Armagh and Andersonstown, Belfastduring the Northern Ireland conflict; 1972 was theheight of the Troubles with 349 civilian deaths, 130 military deaths and 4,876 soldiers injured. His medical career was clearly influenced by this experience with The Gordon Highlanders. In 1973 he became the soldiers and family medical officer in Singapore and Malaysia, followed by a posting to The Queens Royal Irish Hussars in Germany. He returned to the UK to complete his GP training with a maternity post in Colchester and GP training in Kilsyth, Stirlingshire in 1976.

This wide clinical and geographical experience with military medical training made Roddy ideal for the responsibilities of single-handed GP practice in Ballachulish and Glen Coe, with 1,500 patients, in 1977. His responsibilities included face-to-face consultations, running the practice pharmacy, Glen Coe community hospital and all Out of Hours cover. He could be out of his bed in the middle of the night dealing with maternity cases or heart attacks, while still having to see patients the next day, as if nothing had happened. These were the days of traditional NHS General Practice before mobile phones or paramedics. He was ably supported by Maggie who looked after the phones when he was out in the middle of the night with an emergency and their young children were hopefully sleeping.

The Ballachulish bridge had opened in 1975 which meant he could send patients to the Belford Hospital in Fort William, rather than Oban hospital like his predecessors. The only slight respite from his clinical workload, day and night, was a cross cover arrangement with the Kinlochleven practice for alternate weekends.

In civilian General Practice he sported a moustache and always dressed with military precision in a tweed jacket, waistcoat, polished brogues and RAMC tie.

He became involved with medical politics in 1978 and served as secretary and later Chair of the GP Sub Committee and Local Medical Committee for NHS Highland until 1994. These committees shape the delivery of GP services and he was a stalwart defender of single-handed rural practice and independent contractor status. His repeated election to these posts was testament to his skill and leadership qualities. A major achievement of these committees was the singled-handed GP Associate scheme in 1993 which appointed younger GPs between two practices. Roddy thus gained some help for his singlehanded responsibilities after 16 years. Dr Lizzie MacDonald, his new Associate, reflected of Roddy: “Humour and his mastery of words, a joy to work with.”

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A lasting legacy of his time in Ballachulish was the refurbishment of the historic Ballachulish Railway Station into a new medical practice building in 1992, which won an Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland award for design.

Roddy also bucked the NHS political conventions in the Highland and Islands, as chair of the Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber Conservative Association. In 1994 he was appointed a director of the Lochaber Enterprise company and in 1996 the Kinlochleven land development trust. He was an early adopter of GP fundholding which followed the conservative concepts of efficiency and competition.

He was often invited onto Gaelic radio to talk on medical matters to the Gaidhealtachd.

After 25 years serving Ballachulish, he retired to provide his invaluable locum single-handed GP skills to the communities in Caithness, Sutherland, Mull, Islay, Cowal and Colonsay.

“Craigleven”, the MacLeod’s family home and early “doctors surgery” had been built by Dr Lachlan Grant. Dr Roddy then set about documenting and reflecting upon Grant’s important historical contribution to medical practice and the Highlands from 1900 -1945. Grant had proposed a “National Health Service” in 1912 to the Dewar Commission, leading to Roddy’s publication “Talent and Tenacity” in 2013.Family, fishing, wildlife and gardening were Roddy’s interests. He delighted in Jolomo Scottish landscape paintings.

His mastery of words and photography came together for 26 Christmas cards which were eagerly anticipated. 2019 had a picture of a red squirrel and inside his homily of meaning. They always concluded with the Macleod motto and exhortation: “Hold Fast!”. His musical passion was Piping and Pibroch. “Dr Roddy Macleod of Ardtreck” was a march written in 1975 by John Stewart for Roddy and Maggie’s wedding. It was played at his burial by Ian Ruari Finlayson at Trien, Carbost on 5 January 2023.

Roddy is survived by Maggie, their children Seymour, Kirsty and Julia, and grandchildren Craig, Morven, Dolina, Douglas, Harry and Olive.

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