Professor Tom Douglas


Professor Tom Douglas, who has died aged 82 on 7th January 2009, was dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Glasgow University who played a major part in saving Glasgow Vet School when it came under threat of closure during the 1980s.

Thomas Alexander Douglas, born on 9th August 1926 in Battlefield on Glasgow's south side, grew up never wanting to be anything other than a vet, an ambition he realised when he joined the former Veterinary College in Buccleuch Street after leaving Glasgow High School. Those were the years when the vet school stood alone; conversely, it was Tom Douglas who played such a part in ensuring that veterinary medicine reached its fullest potential as part of academic life within Glasgow University.

His time as dean of the faculty coincided with a move by the Conservative government of 1982 to close the vet school, by then a full-blown arm of the university with its own campus at Garscube. Both as dean and member of the university senate, he threw his considerable weight into campaigns to avert closure, and eventually the threat was lifted.

Douglas first went into veterinary practice as an assistant in Ulverston in the Lake District, a James Herriot-like existence which included forays into Barrow-in-Furness (where the Douglas legend grew that he spayed every cat in town). It remains a curiosity of those days that his period as a veterinary assistant counted as National Service.

After a further two years in Lanark, the pull of academia drew him back to Glasgow where his winning of a Scottish Animal Health Trust scholarship enabled him to study biochemistry, graduating with honours and going on to undertake a doctorate.

Now a lecturer in veterinary medicine at the university, he moved for a period to East Africa, helping to open a vet school in Nairobi - where one of his tasks once included tranquillising a rhinoceros.

His lifetime drive to expand veterinary education saw him became an external examiner to several universities in Africa and Asia, before he was appointed to the chair of veterinary biochemistry at Glasgow in 1975.

The completely rounded professional, Douglas lived for his students, his colleagues and his university, enjoying time away from academia with hands-on work at Cochno, the university farm in the Kilpatrick Hills.

Douglas enjoyed close family life, a time constantly enhanced by humour. Faced with a sore ear by son Alistair, father produced a veterinary auroscope, last used to examine the lugs of the family hound. The device was extracted from the filial ear with the paternal words: "I'm away to clean it now. It's not going back in the dog's ear after it's been in yours".

A noted golfer, he continued a single-figure handicap into his 60s. Always keen on sport, he supported his younger son Andrew in golf, and travelled the UK to watch his elder son Alastair, the noted international track, field and cross-country runner.

A committed Christian, Douglas was a member of St Paul's Church, Milngavie, for more than half a century.

He met Rachel McDonald, his wife of nearly 51 years, while both were studying biochemistry at Glasgow University. He is survived by her, his sons Alastair and Andrew, and three grandchildren.


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This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

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