Scotsman Obituaries: Donald Macleod, surgeon and sports medicine pioneer

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

The multiple honors and prestigious awards that Donald MacLeod has received during his career devoted to surgery and sports medicine reflect the global esteem in which he was held by his peers. However, while the letters that follow his name testify to Donald MacLeod’s many and varied accomplishments, they cannot do full justice to this man’s remarkable character, integrity, and brilliance.

His death on November 13, at the age of 81, has robbed the nation’s medical and sporting communities of a true hero and innovator. His legacy in sports medicine will continue to promote, prioritize and protect the well-being of all athletes, both professional and amateur.

After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1965, Donald worked as the doctor for the Scottish rugby union team from 1969 to 1995, eventually becoming its chairman.

Donald Macleod was widely respected for his work in sports medicine

Former player and coach Jim Telfer said: “Donald was an integral part in the development of the staff in the support room at Murrayfield and was responsible for building the team of doctors, fitness advisers and physio’s. I first met Donald when I was captain of Scotland in 1969. During the 70s and 80s, I watched him build the medical network to make it global, not just for the Scottish senior team, but for the B team. And the under-18s and under-21s too.”

When Jim Telfer traveled to 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 advisor and Kevin Murphy as doctor.

“Donald and I worked side by side on tour, and he often acted as a close keeper to the Lions players. I relied heavily on him during that time, because I was under a lot of pressure as a coach. He calmed me down and reassured me about what I was doing.”

“During the early 1980s, Donald and I forged a tremendous relationship. This was later cemented in Grand Slam victories in 1984 and 1990, when both Donald and physicist David MacLean made enormous contributions to Scotland’s success.

“During my time I met quite a few distinguished individuals, both in my teaching profession and in my rugby career, and Donald MacLeod was right up there with the best of them.”

Donald Angus David MacLeod was born at Selkirk Viewfield Hospital in 1941. His father, William, a medical graduate, was a native of Stornoway while his mother, Nancy, was from Selkirk City and was a pediatric nurse.

Soon after his father’s return from the war, Donald and his younger brother Francis moved with the family to Edinburgh, where his brother Angus was born. Donald initially attended the Edinburgh Academy, where he won a scholarship to Gordonstoun School in Moray. Proven made. The school’s motto, Plus Est En Vous (There’s More in You), was in tune with Donald’s desire to broaden his horizons, while the school’s focus on outdoor activities fostered a passion for the countryside that had been with Donald his lifelong stay.

On leaving school he won a place to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and for the next six years he was regularly switched as an open wing forward for the Edinburgh academic rugby team.

At the University of Edinburgh, Donald met the love of his life, Lucille Kirkpatrick of Thornhill in Dumfriesshire. In the same year and studying the same course, the couple married a year after their graduation, on September 6, 1966, at Thornhill Congregational Church.

When Donald was appointed Consultant General Surgeon at Bangor Hospital in 1975, the family moved to a new home in Livingston. When Benjour closed, Donald moved to St John’s Hospital. His years in Bangour were particularly happy, and Donald teamed up with William F Hendrie to write a history of the village and hospital, The Bangour Story, to help preserve the memories.

Ian MacIntyre, Queen’s Surgeon of Scotland from 1997-2004, who worked with Donald at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and succeeded him as Vice-Chair, said Donald was a surgical exemplar – “dependable, decisive, flexible, but always polite and considerate”.

He added, “Donald studied emergency and trauma surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, and transferred that experience to Bangor Hospital, where he assumed the responsibility of a consultant accident and emergency department.

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

“He was a major driving force behind the formation of the College of Sports and Exercise Medicine, the body that to this day governs sports medicine in the UK. The college was officially launched in 2006 by Princess Anne, who was a former Olympian with a great interest in sports medicine. She described the role Crucial to Donald played in the development of sports medicine, while a later speaker called Donald “the father of British sport and exercise medicine”.

“He has served as Emeritus Professor of Sports Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, among many other accolades,” Ian added, “but all of this happened alongside his career as a busy operating surgeon.” His contribution to surgery was recognized by his election as Vice-Chancellor of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and appointment to the General Medical Council.

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

In 2001, Donald and Lucille moved to the Borders, and bought property in a stunning location at the top of the Ettrick Valley.

Rugby remained a passion for Donald, and he and Lucille traveled regularly to see Selkirk play at Philiphaugh’s. After joining the club committee, Donald served as chairman 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 kindness have earned him widespread respect.

To unwind, Donald was looking forward to his regular Friday fishing get-togethers with three friends on Lower Lake in Bohill, while he and Lucille were eager members of the Fourth Valley Orienters.

While living in Ettrick Valley, Donald would ride a 14-mile 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 coast-to-coast walk across Scotland – on three separate occasions, and he’s also regularly run half marathons.

His exploits on the bike were even more amazing. This 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 Challenge in 2005 to raise money for action medical research.

Having moved to Innerleithen in 2018, Donald has continued to cycle in the Tweed Valley, riding his mountain bike along Glentress’ most challenging woodland trails. He was inducted into the Scottish Borders Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

Donald is survived by Lucille, children Rhona, Torquil, and Janet, and grandchildren Grace, Peter, Lauren, and Caitlin.

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