Dr Alistair Rae

Consultant psychiatrist
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The Independent Online

Alistair Sutherland Livingston Rae, consultant psychiatrist: born Edinburgh 11 February 1912; married 1968 Dr Helen Duguid (died 2000); died Dundee 19 April 2006.

In the first month that I was Member of Parliament for West Lothian, I was invited - or, more precisely, ordered - by Alistair Rae, then a visiting consultant psychiatrist, to spend a day with him in the Bangour Village Hospital. He had the passionate belief that it was the duty of a young MP, elected for the constituency in which stood the biggest mental hospital in Central Scotland, to familiarise himself with the then unfashionable problems of the mentally ill.

Actually, the Bangour Hospital was built on the old Prussian model, with houses, looking after some 30-40 patients each, scattered over a bracing hillside and a beautiful landscaped area. There were many reasons to be proud of the institution. But Rae, partly because of his experience as the consultant psychiatrist and surgeon to the Mediterranean Fleet during the Second World War, thought that a society should be judged by the standard of care which it gave to what we now call the neurologically challenged. He was one of their pioneer champions.

Alistair Sutherland Livingston Rae was born into a medical family in Edinburgh and was at George Watson's School between 1920 and 1929, where he not only learnt to play rugby to a high standard but also received the rigorous academic education handed out by the Edinburgh Merchant Company Schools, for which he was always grateful. Distinguishing himself in the world-famous Edinburgh Medical School, he graduated in 1935.

After a series of junior house jobs he volunteered for the Navy in September 1939. Helped by a family connection with the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham (later Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope), whose father had been Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University and a family friend of Rae's father, he was posted to Valetta, Malta. He served Cunningham at the Battle of Cape Matapan, and remained in the Mediterranean theatre after 1942, when Cunningham was promoted, until 1945.

As a surgeon commander (reporting directly to Surgeon Captain - later Vice-Admiral Sir - Alexander Ingleby Mackenzie, the Fleet Medical Officer), Rae was in day-to-day charge in Valetta of those who were suffering from shell shock or related conditions. Nor were his responsibilities confined to naval personnel - his patients, latterly, came from the Eighth Army, and the First Army fighting in North Africa. Some of the most urgent cases came from units that were fighting up the spine of Italy, in battles such as Monte Cassino.

From the beginning of his service, Rae expressed the determination that those suffering psychiatric problems, as a result of war service, should not be treated harshly like the men in the trenches of the First World War. Axiomatic now, it was not received wisdom then.

Partly on account of his wartime reputation, Rae was appointed as consultant psychiatrist at the West Green Hospital in Dundee, which was then incorporated with Garvey House Hospital, and subsequently with Liff Hospital, from which he retired in 1982.

From 1951, when he produced a PhD thesis on "The Form and Structure of the Human Claustrum", he carried on contributing papers to medical journals until he was in his eighties.

In 1968 he married Dr Helen Duguid, a consultant pathologist working at Dundee Royal Infirmary, an acknowledged leader in the field of gynaecological pathology.

Rae is remembered with respect and affection by his younger colleagues Peter Aungle, physician superintendent at the Liff Hospital in Dundee, and Andrew Reid, a distinguished Tayside psychiatrist. Rae, they say, had the habit of holding court "like a coffee-bar Plato", but did a great deal not only for his patients but for the reputation of his profession.

Tam Dalyell