Gordon Macpherson – BaB 40-48

Friday 22 January 2021

Submitted by Linda Beecham

Gordon Macpherson was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where his father was working as an accountant. When Gordon was 10 his father died, but not before writing many letters to find someone to support his son at Christ’s Hospital (the famous ‘Blue Coat’ public school in West Sussex). He was the only child of a single mother and Christ’s Hospital had a profound influence on his life. He made lifelong friends there and in the 1980s and ‘90s he became a Donation Governor links to its Medical Foundation, supporting three pupils.

After Christ’s Hospital, he spent several terms studying science at McGill University in Montreal before starting at St Thomas’, where he met his future wife Elizabeth, a Nightingale nurse. He did national service at RAF Halton, working in the specialist burns unit. Having decided on a career in general practice, he did his training in Somerset before practising in Bexhill for a few years.

Medical Politics

In 1964, Gordon answered an advertisement in The BMJ for an assistant secretary in the BMA and he spent the rest of his career in Tavistock Square.

It was a difficult time in general practice – the BMA had produced a new charter for general practice – and he attended many meetings of aggrieved doctors around the country. In 1966 he was put in charge of the planning unit, chaired by Henry Miller. The unit prepared reports on, for example, intensive care, aids for disabled people, primary medical care, and computers in medicine. He was also secretary of the panel that, in 1970, produced health services financing. This proposed an alternative funding system, and, although it was seen on the desks of many top civil servants, it did not have the impact it deserved because the public was satisfied with its tax based on NHS.

He then crossed the courtyard to become an assistant editor and later deputy editor on The BMJ. Here his main task was to interpret medico-politics for the readership through leading articles, and later his ubiquitous weekly column – Scrutator – expanded to many pages to report BMA’s annual meetings.

A former BMA colleague, Thelma Bedford, said “Gordon frequently helped to bridge the gap between the BMA and The BMJ, whose aims and objectives were not always the same. He never refused to offer help or advice when asked and would give it, often with a wry smile, in a sympathetic and understanding manner.”

Another colleague, Tim Albert, said “Gordon could always get something done or not done or calmed down, and he would listen and sympathise. Gordon was a popular member of the journal’s senior staff – the ‘go-to’ person with problems.”

A former colleague, Tessa Richards, said, “I admired not only what he did but how he did it, with grace, tact and humour. He was a wonderful example of all of us – a gifted, insightful and always thoughtful editor.”

Writer and editor

In retirement, Gordon continued writing, editing and reporting on conferences. He wrote columns for BMA News Review and edited five editions of Black’s Medical Dictionary. With Tony Kember he cowrote The NHS – A Kaleidoscope of Care, and in 1998 he edited Our NHS: A Celebration of 50 Years.

He helped Tim Albert to set up a training and communications business. One of his tasks involved researching and writing newsletters for the United Medical and Dental Schools, which included his alma mater of St Thomas’. He also helped to develop and deliver training courses for young Dutch doctors wanting to write and publish scientific papers. Gordon’s role was to explain how journals work. Tim Albert said, “his wisdom and experience was greatly appreciated by those starting out on their academic careers.”

At school and university, he played rugby as a fast winger, and he enjoyed watching rugby on television until he could no longer follow it. He also loves classical music. Elizabeth died in 2010.

He leaves three children, six grandchildren, a great grandchild, and me, his partner and companion of the past few years.