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Obituary: Colin Bullough

30/12/1939 – 15/06/2006
Community obstetrician
MRCOG 1972 FRCOG 1984

Colin Bullough was one of a small self-selected group of British-born ‘community' obstetricians whose rare commitment had a major impact on maternal and child health services in Africa and Asia.

He was a modest man who quietly worked for others. He had the rare ability to pursue with deep determination what he felt passionate about, while remaining courteous and deeply respectful of other people's points of views. He exuded generosity of spirit: that rare ability to find time for others, to helpfully pass on his knowledge, and to retain unswerving belief in colleagues and the rightness of the cause. Many who had the privilege of knowing him speak of his sound balance, his calmness and dignity, his consistent ‘can do' approach, remaining positive even at times of difficulty; his ability to build things without overshadowing others, to inspire people - his kindness, bravery, determination, wisdom, integrity, strength, and his disarming humour.

Colin was born in Kilmarnock, and grew up in Glasgow where his father was a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church and his mother a school teacher. After graduating in medicine at the University of Glasgow in 1963 and various junior hospital appointments in Glasgow, he went in 1967, newly married to his wife Mary, to Malawi. There he worked for the Diocese of Malawi and latterly for the Government until 1979. During that time he specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology and became the sole obstetrician for a population of two and a half million people. He was deeply concerned about the high mortality of mothers in pregnancy and childbirth and as a result developed a training programme for traditional birth attendants (or village midwives). This was adopted at a national level and continues to this day. The quality of this initiative was recognised by his receiving a Doctorate in Medicine for this work.

Colin and his family returned to the UK in 1979 as by then his two children – Luke and Ruth - had reached secondary school age. He quickly became a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at South Tyneside General Hospital where he worked for the next 13 years. During this time, in addition to providing an excellent clinical service, he maintained his interest in the improvement of maternal health in developing countries and took a masters degree in Medical Education in his spare time.

In 1993 he went to Bangladesh for 5 years under the auspices of the University of Dundee and the British Council, working on a project to improve the training of doctors. He was also involved with the building up of community-based maternity services there. Many of the teaching materials and services that he instigated are still in use in Bangladesh today.

His final move was to Aberdeenshire in 1999. Here, he worked in the Dugald Baird Centre at the University of Aberdeen, conducting research to improve women's health in developing countries. His expertise and experience were highly respected and he worked closely with many international agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the UK Department for International Development, travelling extensively. In 2002, he played a significant role in establishing a major global initiative to reduce maternal mortality, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID and USAID.

Colin formally retired from the University of Aberdeen in September 2005 and died following a short, bravely born illness. He enjoyed sailing, hill-walking and gardening. He had always had a deep concern for the environment and recently established a new woodland, orchard and forest garden at his home in Glassel, Aberdeenshire. He was a family man, very proud of his children and grandchildren and is remembered as a kind and giving father, grandfather and citizen of the world.

Professor Wendy Graham and Professor Adrian Grant, University of Aberdeen, July 4th 2006