Scotsman Obituaries: Donald Macleod, surgeon and sports medicine pioneer

Donald Macleod, surgeon and pioneer of sports medicine. Born: 4 March 1941 Note-0 in Selkirk. Died: 13 Nov 2022 Note-1 Innerleithen, age 81

The multiple honors and prestigious awards earned by Donald MacLeod in a career devoted to surgery and sports medicine reflect the universal esteem in which he is held by his peers. While the letters that follow his name bear testimony to Donald Macleod’s many and varied achievements, they cannot do full justice to the character, integrity and unfailing brilliance of this extraordinary man.

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His passing on November 13, at the age of 81, robbed the country’s medical and sports community of a true champion and innovator. His legacy in sports medicine will continue to promote, prioritize and protect the well-being of all athletes and sportspeople, professional or amateur.

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Graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine from Edinburgh University in 1965, Donald served as team doctor for the Scottish Rugby Union from 1969-1995, eventually becoming its president.

Donald McLeod was widely respected for his work in sports medicine

Former player and coach Jim Telfer said: “Donald was integral in the development of Murrayfield’s backroom staff and was responsible for building his team of doctors, physios and fitness advisers. I first met Donald when I was captain of Scotland in 1969. During the 1970s and 80s I Saw him build the medical network to make it world class, not just the relationship with the senior Scotland team, but for the ‘B’ team. And the Under-18 and Under-21 XVs as well.”

When Jim Telfer toured New Zealand as coach of the British Lions in 1983, the tour management team consisted of just four members – Jim, tour manager Willie-John McBride, Donald as medical adviser and Kevin Murphy as physio.

“Donald and I worked hand in hand on tour, and he often acted as a confidant to the Lions players. I leaned on him a lot at that time, because I was under a lot of pressure as a coach. He would calm me down and reassure me about what I was doing.

“Donald and I developed a remarkable relationship in the early eighties. This was later cemented in the Grand Slam wins of 1984 and 1990, when both Donald and physio David McLean contributed immensely to Scotland’s success.

“During my time I have met some outstanding people both in the teaching profession and in my rugby career and Donald McLeod is up there with the best.”

Donald Angus David Macleod was born in 1941 at Viewfield Hospital in Selkirk. His father William, a medical graduate, was a native of Stornoway and mother Nancy was a resident of Selkirk and a pediatric nurse.

Shortly after his father returned from the war, Donald and his younger brother Francis moved with the family to Edinburgh, where his brother Angus was born. Donald initially attended Edinburgh Academy, from where he won a scholarship to Gordonstoun School in Moray. It gave him proof of the making. The school’s motto, plus est en vous (there’s more in you), resonated with Donald’s desire to expand his horizons, while the school’s emphasis on pursuits outside of school fostered a passion for the countryside that was to stay with Donald throughout his life.

After leaving school he won a place to study medicine at Edinburgh University and would regularly feature as an openside wing forward for the Edinburgh Academic rugby team over the next six years.

It was at Edinburgh University that Donald would meet the love of his life, Lucille Kirkpatrick from Thornhill, Dumfriesshire. Studying in the same year and on the same course, the couple married at the Congregational Church in Thornhill on September 6, 1966, a year after their graduation.

When Donald was appointed Consultant General Surgeon at Bangor Hospital in 1975 the family moved to a new home in Livingston. When Bangor was closed, Donald was transferred to St. John’s Hospital. His years in Bangor were especially happy, and Donald collaborated with William F. Hendry on a history of the village and hospital, The Bangor Story, to help preserve the memory.

Ian McIntyre, surgeon to the queen of Scotland from 1997-2004, who worked with Donald at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and succeeded him as vice-president, said Donald was an ideal surgical role model – “reliable, decisive, resilient, yet always Polite and considerate.”

He added: “Donald studied emergency and trauma surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, and brought that experience to Bangor Hospital, where he took on the role of consultant accident and emergency department.

“However, Donald made his mark nationally and internationally in sports and exercise medicine.

“He was a major driving force behind the formation of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine, the body that still governs sports medicine in the UK today. The faculty was officially launched in 2006 by Princess Anne, who as a former Olympian took a keen interest in sports medicine. He described the important role Donald played in the development of sports medicine, while a later speaker described Donald as ‘the father of British sports and exercise medicine’.

“He served as Honorary Professor of Sports Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, among many other honours,” added Ian, “yet all of this occurred alongside a busy career as a surgeon. His contribution to surgery was Vice-President and General Medical of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. is recognized by his appointment to the Council.

“Donald’s professional life was one of dedication and service to surgery and surgical patients.”

On his retirement in 2001, Donald and Lucille moved to the Borders, purchasing a property in a stunning location at the top of the Ettrick Valley.

Rugby was a passion for Donald, and he and Lucille regularly went to Philipfau to watch Selkirk play. After joining the club’s committee, Donald served as President of Selkirk from 2009-2011.

Donald’s appointment as president of the Scottish Rugby Union in 2013 was a source of particular pride. His knowledge, commitment and friendliness won him wide respect.

For relaxation, Donald looked forward to his regular Friday fishing get-togethers with three friends at Bowhill’s Lower Loch, while both he and Lucille were keen members of the Forth Valley Orienteers.

While living in the Ettrick Valley, Donald would cycle 14 miles round trip to pick up the morning paper and the couple were able to indulge their mutual love of hill walking in the beautiful countryside surrounding their home.

Maintaining a regimen of regular physical activity was second nature to Donald Macleod. He and three friends have completed the Great Outdoors Challenge – a coastal walk across Scotland – on three separate occasions and he also regularly runs half-marathons.

His feat on a bike was even more remarkable. These included cycling from Land’s End to John O’ Groats at the age of 70; cycling 222 miles from Aberdeen to Ardnamurchan; and completing the London to Paris bike ride challenge in 2005 to raise funds for Action Medical Research.

After visiting Innerleithen in 2018, Donald cycled into the Tweed Valley and rode his mountain bike along the more challenging forest trails of Glentress. He was inducted into the Scottish Borders Sporting Hall of Fame in 2006.

Donald is survived by Lucille, children Rona, Torquil and Janet and grandchildren Grace, Peter, Lorraine and Caitlin.

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