Professor Gordon McDowall (1932-1984)

Gordon McDowall was Professor of Anaesthesia at the University of Leeds from October 1969 until his untimely death at Christmas 1984. He was a man of great integrity and, despite his great intellect, humility. The attendance at his funeral was a testament to the esteem in which he was held. This was further reflected in the number of the contributions to the memorial fund set up by Richard Ellis in the University Department of Anaesthesia in Leeds after the funeral. The interest from this fund was offered to the Neuroanaesthetists’ Travelling Club, the forerunner of the Neuroanaesthesia Society, to fund a lecture at its annual meeting every second year on a subject relevant to neuroanaesthesia and/or neurointensive care. The first lecture was given by Professor John Michenfelder at the Leeds meeting in 1987. Professor McDowall had a strong affinity with the Neuroanaesthetists’ Travelling Club. He served on the informal committee that ran the NATC and regularly attended the annual meetings to which he was a much respected contributor. It is gratifying that the NAS is committed to continuing the McDowall lectures despite the falling proportion of the lecture costs that can now be covered by income from the fund.

Gordon McDowall was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and, after basic anaesthetic training there, moved to the opposition in Glasgow where he began a glittering academic career in the neurosciences. His early work with Murray Harper and Bryan Jennett related to the effects of volatile anaesthetics on CBF and ICP in animals and ICP in humans. This work was written up in his MD thesis as well as being published in peer-reviewed journals.

He did his clinical work at Leeds General Infirmary and was a prolific and very gifted medical writer. He continued his clinical and animal research work producing many key publications and became recognized internationally as one of the world leaders in research in neuroanaesthesia and neurocritical care. He produced a large number of publications. His animal work in Leeds included ICP gradients with Halothane, comparison of extradural (Leeds bolt) and subarachnoid measurement of ICP and the effect of anaesthetic agents on ICP, CPP, CBF & CMR. He also did a considerable amount of animal work on induced hypotension and the Cushing response. His clinical research work in Leeds included the effects of various anaesthetic and hypotensive agents on ICP and CPP. He was a proponent of ventilation in severe head injuries in the “To ventilate or not to ventilate?” debate in the 1970s and had a major influence in establishing the need to control ventilation in head injuries the UK.

In addition to the research and clinical work, Gordon McDowall was a member of Council of the Faculty of Anaesthetists at the Royal College of Surgeons, a member of the Editorial Board of the BJA and a Primary Examiner.

Professor Gordon McDowall was the leader of research in neuroanaesthesia and neurointensive care in the UK for over a decade before his untimely death in 1984. The McDowall Lecture is a fitting tribute to his work in our field.

Dr. Ed Moss, NASGBI Past-president, presented a tribute to Prof. McDowall at the NASGBI Annual Scientific Meeting, May 2009, Liverpool UK.