Obituary - Professor Sir Gordon Robson CBE
1922 to 2007
James Gordon Robson died on 23 February 2007, aged 85. He was born in Perth and schooled in Stirling. He qualified in medicine from Glasgow University in 1944. After a six-month house post in obstetrics in Stirling he joined the Army. Out in East Africa he started his career in anaesthetics. Leaving the Army in 1948, he trained in Glasgow and Edinburgh. He then became First Assistant to Professor Pask in Newcastle and wrote his first scientific papers.
In 1956 he accepted the Wellcome Research Chair in Anaesthetics at McGill University in Montreal. There he combined clinical work with papers on the revolutionary new anaesthetic, halothane, with basic scientific studies of the neurophysiologic effects of anaesthetic drugs.
In 1964 he returned to the UK to take the chair of the newly independent Department of Anaesthetics at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and Hammersmith Hospital in London. Hammersmith was one of the leading departments in the world and Gordon built on its strengths. As a teaching and research centre it attracted anaesthetists from around the world as trainees, postgraduate students and visitors. Professor Robson supported all his staff and trainees both in their time at Hammersmith and subsequently.
He was elected to the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, becoming Vice-Dean and then Dean from 1973 to 1976. The role of anaesthetists in the Royal College of Surgeons of England was increasing: he became the first anaesthetist to be elected Vice-President from 1977 – 1979. In that College he became Dean of the Institute of Medical Sciences and then Master of the Hunterian Institute. It was also the time when the Royal Medical Colleges realised the need to work more together: he became the Honorary Secretary of the Conference of Royal Medical Colleges. Whilst in that office he produced what may be his most important work. The British Medical Journal in 1976 and 1979 published two reports from him giving the criteria for diagnosing brain death. These excluded the necessity for electroencephalography or for neuroradiologic investigations and have stood the test of time. They have greatly aided the work of critical care units and the work of organ transplantation.
He was the last medical chairman of the Advisory Committee on Distinction Awards. The work was conducted with scrupulous fairness. Few could dispute any final judgements His honours were many: he was elected to honorary Fellowships of the Irish and Australasian Faculties, FRCS, FDSRCS, D.Sc (Montreal) and Presidency of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was created CBE in 1976 and knighted in 1982.
He married his first wife (Dr Martha Kennedy) in 1945. She died in 1975. His second wife, Jennifer Kilpatrick, whom he married in 1984, survives him.
The memory of Gordon Robson that remains is one of a good teacher and friend and a tireless worker for anaesthesia and medicine in general. He is one whose wise counsel was widely sought, freely given and will be sorely missed.
Professor John Norman