Remembering Scotty Macleish (Wyvern 1955)
Dr Donald G Macleish AO 12 May 1928 – 22 May 2016
[Address by the Master, Prof David T Runia, during the memorial gathering held at Leonda by the Yarra, Hawthorn, on 25 June 2016. The address was accompanied by a dozen photos shown on a large screen.]
Donald Gordon “Scotty” Macleish
At Queen’s College, the University college with which Scotty was associated for most of his life, we call past residents Wyverns, after the heraldic creature on our coat of arms. Scotty was one of the most loyal and devoted Wyverns that the College has ever had.
He first came to live at the College in March 1950, at the age of 21, but his association with the College goes quite a bit further back than that. As we heard, Scotty came out from Scotland with his family to live at Ormond College when he was 11. At that time College crescent was a very different place. There were hardly any fences, except to keep the cows in the paddock between Ormond and Queen’s. It wasn’t long before Scotty had discovered children of his own age at Queen’s and in particular Maureen Johnson, the daughter of the Master. They roamed around and played together, enjoying the freedom of the wide open spaces. It was a friendship that was to endure all his life. Maureen, now Maureen Ashcroft, is present here today and asked me to speak on her behalf. Interestingly she alone of the people I have met does not refer to Scotty by that name, but rather as Donny, using the nickname of his early years.
So it was in 1950 that Scotty arrived at Queen’s, after doing his first-year of medicine in Mildura as one did in the post-war years. Here he is in the College photo of that year, on the very left in the third row from the front. We can see him better in the photo of the athletics team of the same year, the tallest of the men in the back row, cutting a fine figure. Queen’s was a lively place, then as now, and one of the favourite pastimes was ‘water-bagging’, throwing paper bags filled with water from the upper windows onto unsuspecting residents below. In the photo we see Scotty, neatly dressed in jacket and tie, trying to avoid one of these missiles in a rather ungainly fashion.
A feature of College life then were the pranks played on member of the community. One is recorded in the College magazine under the heading Monte Bello, the island off Western Australia where atomic tests were held in the late 40’s and early 50’s. A scientific member of high table, Dr Miles, was farewelled by the College. The occasion was marked by a display of nuclear fission involving a nitrogen compound together with an explosion of an electronically configurated atom bomb hung midway in the dining hall’. Somehow we are not surprised to read that the toast to Dr Miles was proposed by a certain Professor MacLeish (sic).
It was well-known at the time that the Master, Dr Johnson, was deeply interested in spiritual phenomena. One evening Scotty decided to perform a ‘hypnotism’ act involving the cooperation of residents who had been primed in advance. The Master heard about this and called him into his office, warning him to be careful not to misuse his considerable powers in this field. Scotty had to explain that it was all meant as a joke.
We round off his time as a resident at Queen’s with two more photos. The first is the College photo in 1952, his final year. We see him in the back row, blowing a very large horn about the size of a tuba. This might seem out of character, since in later life Scotty was most definitely not one to blow his own horn. The other photo is of the cricket XI, with Scotty sitting in the middle, holding a cricket ball and giving the photographer a rather crafty look as befits a skilled captain in this noblest of sports. On his right is Geoff Harcourt, later to become a distinguished economist and a Fellow of the College.
We next encounter Scotty in the 1960’s, as he is forging a successful career as a surgeon at the Royal Melbourne hospital. It was a time of expansion in the world of the Colleges and Queen’s badly needed financial support for its plans. Scotty was enlisted as head of a fund-raising campaign. We see the photo, including cropping instructions, that was used for the campaign brochure. Scotty must have thought that his handsome and energetic face was not enough to loosen the purse-strings. The following story is still told, and you have to know that Queen’s was a teetotalling Methodist institution at the time to fully appreciate it. The day of the big fund-raising event dawned. Scotty decided to be crafty again, so he quickly popped over to the Hospital to pick up a bottle of pure alcohol, which he proceeded secretly to pour into the punch. He noted with satisfaction that the conversation was very animated and the appeal raised more than was expected.
Scotty was honoured by the College when he was elected a Fellow in 1992, just before his 65th birthday. In the next photo we see him in academic robes with two close friends who are also Fellows, Geoffrey Blainey the historian, and his mentee and colleague John Harris, the orthopaedic surgeon. The Fellows met twice a year at that time and Scotty seldom missed a meeting. He enjoyed the company of the Fellows, including that of Max Corden, another distinguished economist. He would drive Max home after meetings and they would have conversations in the car. During one of these they discovered that they had arrived in Melbourne in the same month of January 1939, Scotty from Scotland, Max from Nazi Germany. It was through the Fellowship that I first got to know him when I became Master in 2002. He always especially enjoyed the Master’s garden party in December, where he would meet up with Maureen. On that occasion he would solemnly present my wife Gonni and me with a bottle of Lexia sweet wine, no doubt continuing a long-standing tradition.
It has to be said that Scotty could be opinionated. He had a good working knowledge of Latin, partly learned no doubt from his mother who was a Latin teacher. Early on in my Mastership he challenged me on the way that I pronounced the College grace. I said in the first line manum tuam, but he thought it should be manum tuum. As a classicist, I could not leave this unanswered. I had to explain to him that the word manus meaning hand was, despite appearances, not masculine but feminine, since it belonged to the fourth declension. Scotty got me back some years later when he was invited to launch the College academic journal and found a number of mistakes in its Preface.
Scotty was very proud of the fact that three of his grandchildren Kristen, Marty and Lucy, became residents of Queen’s. There is a photo of him with Kristen and a friend at a function in the Junior Common Room. In another photo he is wearing his academic robes and sitting next to Marty. This photo is taken at the Fellows’ dinner, a highlight of the College year which Scotty would never miss if he could help it. He greatly enjoyed interacting with the students, with lots of jokes and acute observations on medical issues. One witticism that I heard more than once was in response to a complaint about an ailment of some kind. You know, Scotty would say, the treatment I recommend is POT. This would of course elicit surprise as it was meant to. Was the eminent gentlemen referring to the medicinal properties of marijuana perhaps? No, he would patiently explain, the best remedy for most health problems is Passage Of Time. P-O-T.
Scotty as we have already seen believed in philanthropy. So he himself was a generous donor to the College. He particularly supported music at Queen’s, helping to purchase a grand piano and supporting the Organ restoration appeal. He loved the chapel and was its most devoted Wyvern attendee. Against this background he was prepared to be the Patron of the Sugden society for bequestors to the College. We see him in that role in the next photo, standing with Frank Opray our bequest officer and Jack Ayerbe who took over the role from him. All of these years of service were recognised two years ago when the Wyvern Society inaugurated a Wyvern of the year award. Most fittingly Scotty received the very first medal to rousing applause in the College dining hall. The photo shows him with his walking stick before the ceremony and the final photo is of the medal itself. We had to work quite hard to persuade him to accept the award. Right to the end Scotty remained true to himself: modest to the point of being recalcitrant. But we were ever so glad that he gave way. It was a fitting climax to a lifetime of association with Queen’s College.
Passage of time can often help and heal, but in the end it must work against you. Scotty, your time had come. At Queen’s we mourn your passing and we extend our sincerest condolences to your family and close friends. But most of all we celebrate a rich life lived in service to others and the community. We give thanks for your loyalty and your devotion to our community. We will miss you greatly, and we will never forget you.
Aedificamus in aeternum. We build for eternity (Queen’s motto)
By John Harris
On the Saturday morning of June 25 this year a special memorial service was held to celebrate the life of Scotty Macleish, distinguished Surgeon, Wyvern and lifelong friend of Queen’s College, who died on 22 May 2016 at the age of 87.
It was typical of Scotty that he had instructed his family he did not wish to have any fuss, but fortunately they took no notice. Consultation took place in relation to the expected number of people who might wish to attend and it was decided to hold the service at Leonda Receptions in Hawthorn. It would have been fitting to have arranged this for him at his beloved Queen’s, but even our grand Eakins Hall would not have accommodated the several hundred people who turned up, exchanged memories and paid their respects.
The service spanned his Family Life, his Young Days at Scotch College and the Portsea Gang, Queen’s College Student Days, Lord Somers Camp and Powerhouse, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Vietnam, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand and Recreation including skiing and the Red Tag Fly Fishers’ Club. The service extended over some three hours and had to included an interval! Another of Queen’s’s greatest friends, Jack Clarke, remarked that in all his days he had never seen anything quite like it! As the second to speak, our Master, David Runia gave a wonderful tribute about Scotty and Queen’s.
Suffice to say, Scotty was someone who stood out from the crowd and was a character right from his school days. At Scotch College he was a bright student and good athlete and he continued to excel through all the phases of his life. This was especially the case when he was a young surgeon. He foresaw the need for specialised surgery for vascular diseases and this led him to work with Michael DeBakey in USA who had no peers in this specialty and who befriended Scotty and greatly respected him. When Scotty returned to Royal Melbourne Hospital in the early 1960’s he was the consummate surgeon. He subsequently went on to establish his vascular surgical specialty but also encouraged the discipline of surgery in general by teaching, training and mentoring the next generation. He was a sought after surgeon because of his surgical skills, providing untiring, selfless service clinically and administratively to his hospital.
During the Vietnam War he led an Australian team of surgeons in Vietnam and he later contributed for over twenty years to overseas training to South East Asian countries, including Singapore, Thailand and New Guinea.
His surgical achievements and contributions culminated in him being appointed President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1985-1987. As President he not only provided stable leadership but also established and presided over the Weary Dunlop/Boon Pong scholarship for young Thai surgeons to come to Australia. Prince Charles was also installed as the College Patron during Scotty’s presidential term. Scotty was later awarded the Royal Order of the White Elephant by the King of Thailand, which is the highest honour that can be bestowed by that country. In Australia he was awarded the AO in 1989 for services to surgery and the community nationally and internationally.
In his spare other time Scotty remained closely associated with Lord Somers Camp and every year he was one of the supervisors who stayed at the camp and mentored the young occupants. He also had a special interest in Scottish history including the origins of whisky as well as enjoying the odd taste. For recreation he enjoyed a round of golf, loved skiing and was very good at it. Late in life he developed a fascination in fly casting and became a revered member of the Red Tag Fly Fishers Club.
So what makes a person like Scotty so special apart from all his achievements? My recollections will only scratch the surface, but may provide a little insight in understanding the man.
Every now and again you come across a special person who stands out from the crowd and if you are fortunate enough, that person can positively influence your life. Such a special person was Donald Gordon “Scotty” Macleish (note, not Mc. or Mac and no capital letter L — something that spellcheckers do not seem to understand but which Scotty was very fussy about). That, and his way with words and his unswerving efforts to promote proper spelling and grammatical correctness is one of the things you would first note about him. He would castigate himself if he missed a typing or grammatical error in his letters or minutes of meetings that he was responsible for. Not infrequently when teaching students or trainees he would go off on a tangent and discuss the more important things to him such as ones habits or behaviour or the meaning of a word rather than the myriad of things he held behind his high brow concerning the diseases that the listeners were keen to know about. Some students found this frustrating while waiting with pen poised for him to expound on more important matters to them such as the various causes of bowel obstruction or how the blood got from one end of a limb to the other!
He had a penchant for Latin which most likely had been handed down from his schoolteacher mother who taught Latin, and his father who was a Presbyterian Minister and Professor of Theology. It was by no means unusual for him to introduce a Latin word or phrase during conversation or a teaching session. He reintroduced me to the Sugden Queen’s College Latin Grace.
He led by example, by getting to where he needed to be and starting on time. I doubt that anyone could recall him being late for anything except when there was the need for him to deal with a surgical emergency. He was such a stickler for being on time that one could imagine he would be anxious about being late for his own funeral! If you made a time to meet Scotty or were collecting him to take him somewhere no matter in what country, he would be there standing, waiting for you, no doubt about it.
Scotty was seen to be present at every meeting that he was meant to attend and had a gift for making a comment or coming to a conclusion that made the meeting worthwhile. On one occasion he emerged at a Royal Melbourne Hospital Saturday morning Surgical Forum in dressing gown and pyjamas expounding and demonstrating the virtues of good surgery after he had undergone a major open heart bypass operation only the previous Thursday. “Good outcomes from surgery don’t happen by accident” was one of his sayings.
He also had other somewhat controversial little sayings no doubt based on astute observations but that only he could get away with. For example, in relation to a poorly trained surgeon he would comment, “I would not lie down for them, John” or “Be wary of the person who talks with their hands.” He would also pronounce “Varicose veins are not painful” despite patients’ complaints that their varicose veins were giving them trouble. Scotty’s view was that patients preferred to complain of painful symptoms as an excuse to justify their perceived need to have them operated upon rather than expose their own vanity by saying they were ugly to look at! This type of comment could understandably upset some patients but it did not deter him from his wish for surgery not to be performed unnecessarily or to be regarded lightly. “Tiredness is just a state of mind” is another “Scottyism” and may explain how he managed to stay alert and work and play so hard throughout day and night, allowing him to achieve so much throughout his life.
He had a high forehead that contained a corresponding intellect and he could look poker-faced and serious at times. While some people may have seen Scotty as aloof, nothing could be more wrong than this perception. It is true that he could not stand pretence or posturing and would say, “Let the tongue and lips move in independence of the lower jaw”. But he could talk and engage with anybody and with everybody about almost anything. Should there be something he did not understand, he would ask about it or take his own steps to follow up this gap in his knowledge. It would be stored away and often reported back to those interested or involved. If Scotty borrowed something it was generally a piece of equipment that he did not have but with which he could help someone else. I lent him my chain saw once and it was returned in better condition and with a small gift.
Scotty was totally impecuniary even though he could have made a lot of money with all his skills. His interest was focused more on service for others. “Doing your best and getting a job done and working as a team makes the experience more enjoyable,”he would say. He was so trusting he would leave his car keys on the right rear wheel of his car under the mudguard when parking in the street!
He therefore had many friends from all walks of life, from everywhere, including all over the world. I myself had the pleasure of having Scotty as my surgical assistant during his later years when he had ceased his own clinical practice. When in the operating theatre or in the tea room he would often greet and enquire where one of the staff who was not from Australia was from. They might be from Europe, North America or all parts of Asia and not uncommonly through his vast number of medical connections throughout the world, there was someone in common who was known to Scotty or he knew the area where the staff member lived and chatted about its various topographical features. He was fun to operate with and because he had never had much orthopaedic training as a junior doctor he was always amazed at how far the leg could be screwed around when doing a Total Hip replacement. He also coveted the orthopaedic power drills and reamers but especially the hip socket reamer which he perceived as the perfect cheese grater and wanted to borrow it if he one day needed to grate a Stilton! Once he asked if he could keep two discarded hip replacement heads. The heads are made of cobalt/chromium, are highly polished and fit into the hip socket like a large ball bearing. Scotty had acquired them to adorn a trophy for a special annual endurance/strength award at Lord Somers Camp called the “Balls of Steel Award”. He had found the perfect trophy!
Scotty was a great listener and wise counsellor. but he was also an entertaining talker and story teller. He was popular as an after dinner speaker, telling up-to-date jokes appropriate for whichever audience he had in front of him. He was also a good actor and trickster. One evening at his home Scotty was hosting some junior doctors who worked with him at Royal Melbourne. He looked at his watch and excused himself and said he had to collect his Scottish cousin at the train station. There was a knock at the door soon after Scotty had left and the cousin entered saying his train was early and he decided not to wait and so walked from the station. Obviously their paths had crossed. The cousin had a very broad Scottish accent and was very entertaining for a good part of the evening. The “cousin” of course was a made-up Scotty and he was so convincing it took ages for the penny to drop for the bemused guests.
Aye, this man was a true lifelong friend of Queen’s College. He will never be forgotten by those fortunate enough to know him. Vale, Scotty.
John Harris is an orthopaedic surgeon and a Fellow of Queen’s College.