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Obituary: James Steel Scott

James Scott was my predecessor as professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Leeds University. He himself was only the second holder of the chair, the first having been Sir Andrew Claye, who was also the tenth president of this College. Sir Andrew was a man of few words. James told me that when he arrived in Leeds the handover consisted of Sir Andrew passing him in the corridor and saying “Morning, Scott”.

James Scott was born in Glasgow in 1924, the son of a doctor, and attended the Academy and Glasgow University, where he graduated in 1946. After two years of National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, mainly in West Africa, he returned to Glasgow where he became Senior Resident in the Victoria Infirmary and gained his MRCOG in 1953.

The following year he moved to Liverpool where, eight years previously, Norman Jeffcoate had become Liverpool University's first full-time professor of obstetrics and gynaecology. James was successively Obstetric Tutor, then lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Professor Jeffcoate's department.

In 1958 James was the Blair Bell Memorial Lecturer at the College here, and in the same year he married Olive, a paediatric cardiologist. They had two sons, one of whom later became the Sunday Times skiing columnist and held the post for 20 years.

In 1959 James graduated MD with commendation, with a thesis on placental abnormalities, and in the same year gained his FRCSEd. Two years later, at the age of 37, he was appointed to the Leeds chair, which he occupied for 28 years. He was originally based in the Leeds Maternity Hospital, a redbrick building on the edge of the campus and it remained the department's spiritual home when they moved to the large, faceless Clarendon Wing in 1983. It took another six years to change the notepaper.

James was a member of this Council from 1975 to 1981, and was Sims Black Professor in 1979 and in 1986 he became FRCS England ad eundem .

At Leeds he became an expert in autoimmune disease in pregnancy and published a series of papers, some with his non-clinical lecturer Pamela Taylor. It's impressive that their most important research, on maternal antibodies in congenital heart block, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine when he was in his sixties, just as he became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

When he retired in 1989 the University Senate passed a resolution saying: “James's distinction has been recognised by appointments as visiting professor and by invitations to speak at innumerable international conferences. Members of Senate note with regret, however, that he has retired before giving his Inaugural Lecture here in Leeds”.

It continued: “His most important achievements were at the interface between the University and its two teaching hospitals, where he developed excellent working relationships which should stand us in good stead as the School prepares to adjust to a new pattern of delivery of health care proposed in the Government's White Paper Working for Patients .” This was 17 years ago – plus ca change .

James gave his recreations as “skiing and biography” and several Fellows here knew him as a member of that gynaecological group which holds CME meetings every year in various Alpine chalets. He continued skiing well into his retirement, collecting occasional exotic injuries, and he was a regular attender at the former Councillors dinners right up to two months ago, when for the first time he looked noticeably frail due to his final illness.

I must say that at our handover I was treated with great kindness. James took me out to dinner to give me the low-down and later he and Olive were excellent hosts at their large house in Knaresborough. He was clearly held in wide esteem and I can't resist a final quote from the Senate resolution:

“His style and aplomb, his breadth of knowledge of the ways of the world, his eye for detail, his phenomenal memory and his natural talent as a raconteur could add a rare sparkle to events ... He will be remembered for his sense of purpose, his concern for the well-being of others and his wise counsel on all matters.”

Wonderful words from colleagues who had known him well for many years. One feels a real sense of history at his passing.

Professor James Drife