“The Wee Doctor” was born in Glasgow in 1904, the only boy in a family of
three. He left school at the age of 14, or whatever the school leaving age
was at that time. On leaving school he trained as a lens grinder.
During his late teens and early twenties he contracted pleurisy on two
occasions, the second bout almost killed him. He was admitted to hospital
on both occasions, and it was on seeing how the doctors worked, and how
one in particular worked with him and virtually saved his life, that he
decided to study medicine. This doctor became his friend and mentor
throughout his studies.
those days, of course there were no students’ grants and the entire family
rallied round, my grandmother taking in washing to help pay for his
education. He himself learned to play the organ and earned a few bob
playing the organ in Blochairn Church. It was at this time that he met my
mother who was in the church choir.
had to start from scratch, studying for his “highers” before going on the
Glasgow University. It was during this time that his sense of humour was
honed. In his fourth year at university he won a prize for surgery. On
such occasions in these days, the prizewinner was given a sum of money to
spend on books in Smiths in St Vincent Street (now no longer there). Of
course the idea was that the student bought textbooks on his subject in
order to deepen his knowledge. Imagine the professor’s reaction at the
prize giving ceremony when my father’s choice of books was discovered -
Para Handy and work by W.W. Jacobs!
Neil Munro, W.W. Jacobs and P.G. Wodehouse remained his favourites
throughout his life.
had wanted to specialise in paediatrics, but for some reason, never did,
although he gained a vast knowledge of childhood illnesses. By virtue of
one position he had after graduation, he became an authority on chest
graduation he did his “houseman” year in Bellshill then a couple of
assistantships in England, one in Harrogate, and one in Salford (the chest
stayed for a time in a temperance hotel in Salford, and he remembered that
the room was on a slant. He said that if you were not careful stepping
into his room, you were running by the time you reached the window!
Doctors bought practices before the days of social medicine, and he began
to look for a practice. His letters to my mother (still in Glasgow and now
engaged to him) are an interesting insight to “The Wee Doctor”.
his son, he always struck me as being very confident and decisive person,
but those letters written when looking for a practice (not necessarily in
Scotland) are revealing.
Finally he wrote to my mother about one “ … down in Ayrshire, it’s in a
wee town and is not too far from Glasgow. It’s a town called Maybole”
Dr. Ross was retiring and the practice was up for sale. Ironically one of
the snags was the fact that there was an “awfully big house” included in
the sale, and this almost put my father off. Having finally made an offer
that was accepted, there was then much soul-searching; (he was still down
in Salford at this time). What would the people think about a stranger
taking over the practice? What if they didn’t like him? He was so young
compared to the out-going doctor (he was 33); would he fit into a small
town? There was also the spectre of the bank and the “mortgage” he needed.
In the keeping of the times the borrowing of money for whatever reason was
an alien concept in the McLean family.
Anyway, as they say, “the rest is history”. He never regretted his
Medicine as practices then was different from now. None of this “illness
during office hours only”. He was on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a
week. Last act at night in the McLean household right up until he retired
was to have a cup of tea or cocoa for supper, and make up a flask of tea
for when he might return from a night-time call. There was no question of
“two aspirin and call me in the morning.”!
flask, along with a bar of Fry’s Cream Chocolate – always his favourite,
was placed at the end of the mantelpiece in their bedroom.
had a half-day on a Thursday, and this resolved into doing “”visits” but
not having an evening surgery, going into Ayr for tea then visiting with
the Grays at the Castle. In other words, half days began at about 5.00pm.
had every other weekend off. This was generally comprised normal working
Saturday and Sunday morning with Sunday afternoon visiting relatives in
early school days were spent at a school in Alloway. As a result I caught
a bus at 7.15am and arrived back at five-past six in the evening, thus
during term time I hardly saw my father during the week.
was always fond of sailing and the sea. Once in Rothesay he ran away to
join the navy but there were very few vacancies for six-year-olds!
a time he had a boat in Girvan harbour that was a relaxation for him. Even
just going down there and “pottering” about in it, still moored, was
therapeutic. I never really shared his enthusiasm. It was a thing that
came out the water every winter (in Maidens) and had to be cleaned and
painted. Too much effort for me!
Fergus (my brother) joined the merchant navy, and on one occasion my
father gave him his movie camera and asked him to take some film of the
sea. The result was about two hours of nothing but waves in silence!
interesting man absolutely dedicated to his profession and to the people
he served. A great storyteller, and I have to say that I wish I had
written down his anecdotes for they were numerous and funny but never