Hugh Whyte, footballer and doctor

Born: 24 July 1955, in Kilmarnock. Died: 9 November 2009, in Dunfermline, aged 54.

I FIRST met Hugh Whyte in July 1977. I was quietly getting changed for my first training session with Dunfermline Athletic, having signed for the club in the summer. I was 18 and had just started at medical school in Edinburgh.

There had been scarcely a nod to acknowledge my presence, until the dressing-room door crashed open and a large, lithe, athletic figure burst in.

"Where is he, the medical student?" he asked. I put up my hand. A huge smile filled his face. He wandered over, sat next to me, put his arm around my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said: "You must be off your head doing this."

"Shuggie", as he was known to thousands of adoring Pars fans, was a fourth-year medical student at the time. He had played half-a-dozen games for Hibs after joining them from Ayrshire side Hurlford United in 1972, but when the chairman, Tom Hart, asked him to turn full-time, he could not give up his studies. So he joined Dunfermline in 1976 under manager Harry Melrose and immediately established himself as first-choice keeper.

It was a position he held for nine years despite the arduous hours of junior hospital work and the burden of having Bonar Mercer and myself as his full-backs. His greatest strengths were his fantastic reflexes and shot-stopping ability, which were among the best I have ever seen, and his courage. He would never think twice about throwing himself at the feet of onrushing strikers; in fact I suspect he actually liked it.

I remember just a few years ago when, approaching 50, Hugh played in a friendly testimonial match at East End Park. Davie Irons, a relative youngster who was still playing Premier League football, was bearing down on goal. Out charged Hugh and promptly dispatched him like a ten-pin skittle into the night sky.

He played 362 times for the Pars, and had 116 shut-outs, both records that stand today. That suggests he wasn't half bad. He later served as club doctor and recently as chairman of the ex-players' association. Last year, in recognition of his achievements, he was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame on an evening that made Hugh and his family rightly proud.

His humour could be cutting. In a televised game against Hibs at Easter Road, I had a howler when I was defending the near post at a free kick. Tony Higgins, the Hibs winger, bent the ball around the wall and I was certain it was going past. For some reason I moved away from the post, leaving a wee gap through which the ball flew into the net. I had my head in my hands in anguish when Hugh tapped my shoulder, handed me the ball and with the hint of a grin said: "You'll be on the telly tonight then."

The pivotal moment in young Hugh's life was the evening we went to a party in Edinburgh in 1977. Sitting on a stairway was a stunning girl with jet-black hair. Hugh tempted her on to the dance floor, which was a brave first move, as you could never say it was his most comfortable habitat. Helen was won over, however, when Hugh told her he was a medical student and a professional footballer with Dunfermline Athletic to boot. Hugh was hooked when Helen immediately replied: "That was a good 1-1 result you had today." True love at first dance. They were engaged seven months later and married the following year.

After graduating, Hugh did junior hospital jobs in and around Edinburgh, eventually settling in Dunfermline as a GP in the Nethertown Broad Street surgery. He was a natural and gifted general practitioner, energetic, highly motivated, knowledgeable, respected by his colleagues and, most importantly, trusted and loved by his patients. His enthusiasm and drive for an improved health service led to his increasing involvement in medical politics and management. By now, his involvement at the Pars as a player was drawing to a close, and with his son Graham born in 1984 and daughter Heather in 1986, he committed himself fully to his family and his medical career.

In 1991, his career took a new path, and he left general practice, using the experience of his clinical practice coupled with his clear vision and ideals in new, influential roles. He was one of the first GP prescribing advisers in the country, with Tayside Health Board.

After a short secondment to the Scottish Office, his flair and aptitude was quickly recognised and he was employed as primary care adviser at the Scottish Office. His tenure came at a particularly stressful time of major transition in Scottish healthcare and he played a leading role in the successful implementation of national policies.

In 2003 a new opportunity was offered, when Hugh joined the Hedra organisation and became involved in the challenge of developing a national IT network that would integrate all health service providers.

He devoted himself with all his usual passion and energy until last year, when, satisfied he had achieved what he had set out to, and fully aware that his time left with Helen, Graham and Heather was uncertain, he took early retirement.

He had been diagnosed with myeloma in January 2005. The devastating diagnosis was accompanied by considerable pain and a lengthy list of complications from chemotherapy. Despite this, he never complained – not to his doctors, his friends or his family. His priority was to minimise distress to his loved ones. The strength and selflessness he displayed during his illness were remarkable, but typical of the man.

Hugh was a man of great intellect, talent and achievement, but he possessed characteristics far greater than these. His humility, loyalty, compassion and love are what defined him. He was adored by his patients and his fans, respected and admired by his colleagues and dearly loved by his friends.

His family, however, was his real treasure in life. It was with his wife and children that he found his ultimate joy and contentment. He is survived by Helen, Graham and Heather.

DR BOBBY ROBERTSON