William Cramond

Psychiatrist Vice-Chancellor of Stirling University

Monday 10 October 2011 07:01

That Stirling University has an assured place among well- regarded British universities is in significant part due to the wise and constructive vice-chancellorship of the distinguished psychiatrist William Cramond.

William Alexander Cramond, psychiatrist and university administrator: born Aberdeen 2 October 1920; Physician Superintendent, Woodilee Mental Hospital, Glasgow 1955-61; OBE 1960; Director of Mental Health, South Australia 1961-65; Professor of Mental Health, University of Adelaide 1963-71; Principal Medical Officer in Mental Health, Scottish Home and Health Department 1971-72; Professor of Mental Health and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Leicester University 1972-75; Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Stirling University 1975-80; Director of Mental Health Services, New South Wales 1980-83; Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Flinders University 1983-92 (Emeritus); AO 1994; married 1949 Bertine Mackintosh (one son, one daughter); died Adelaide, South Australia 7 June 2004.

That Stirling University has an assured place among well- regarded British universities is in significant part due to the wise and constructive vice-chancellorship of the distinguished psychiatrist William Cramond.

In 1975, when Cramond took over the reins, the future of Stirling University was in peril. Over dinner in 1974, so serious a scientist as David Phillips (later Lord Phillips of Ellesmere), then Professor of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford University, told me that his advice was to close four British universities - one of which he named as Stirling - and concentrate resources elsewhere. Moreover, Stirling was uniquely vulnerable. In 1972 there had been a royal visit. The students had been cooped up indoors in cafeterias with access to alcohol. One student, looking malign, but actually benevolently sozzled, approached the Queen bottle in hand, and the threatening picture went round the world. The name of Stirling was besmirched. Potential donors had second thoughts.

The infant university, founded in 1967, had lost its gifted first Secretary, Harry Donnelly, and then, in 1973, its Vice-Chancellor Tom Cottrell, the much-respected chemist, died of a stroke brought on by stress. Fred Holliday, later Vice-Chancellor of Durham, stood in. The Appointments Committee looked far and wide for a vice-chancellor who could rescue the dire situation (I know because my father-in-law, John Wheatley, the Lord Justice Clerk, was Chairman of the University Court). In Bill Cramond they found their man.

William Alexander Cramond was educated at the rigorous Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen and at Aberdeen University, from where he volunteered in 1940 for military service. He was posted to the Third Battalion of the Tenth Gurkha Rifles in India. After a year training for war against the Japanese, he was stricken by polio and returned to Aberdeen University.

His first senior job was as physician superintendent at the Woodilee Mental Hospital outside Glasgow between 1955 and 1961. He and his wife, Bertine, also a psychiatrist, had a chance invitation from a visiting Australian for him to become Director of Mental Health for South Australia, which he did for four years before becoming Professor of Mental Health at the University of Adelaide, 1963-71.

Tempted back to Britain by the offer of a post as Principal Medical Officer in Mental Health in the Scottish Home and Health Department, he returned to academia as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Leicester University. His inaugural lecture, "Prescription for a Doctor", attracted national attention:

Sometimes people decide on medicine as a career because of personal illness, or the sickness or death of a much-loved family member. Sometimes success in a course of first aid in the Scouts or Guides is the spark that kindles the flame. More rarely nowadays is there a long family tradition of producing doctors.

But what, he asked, of the unconscious motives?

The first I would mention is the early, normal unconscious identification of the child, boy and girl, with a mother. She seems to be the source of compassion, mercy, nurturing, succouring, healing and comforting. So these values attributed to her are incorporated in the growing child and a choice of profession where they can be acted out is made. Or again there is the theme of curiosity about the body. I guess as children we have all played at being doctors, and for some of us these simple, superficial examinations of the other's body in a rather furtive and secretive way become in reality "Let's be a doctor" in later life, where the final answer to the question of what is really inside is given.

Cramond was a champion of many causes. He opposed all forms of restriction, overt or covert, on the entry of women into medicine. While it was true that many never fulfilled their academic or professional potential in terms of the obtaining of higher qualifications or of research output, the quality of their work was as high as that of their male colleagues as was their conscientiousness. Cramond concluded:

I ask myself my criterion of a good doctor and it is this. Is this the man or woman that I would ask to look after my wife and children, mother and father? If we can answer that question in the affirmative and can apply this to our graduates then Leicester town and gown will have done well. This must be our steadfast goal and in time our achievement.

Perhaps Cramond's most important legacy was his careful work published in the Journal of Psychiatric Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal on the care of the dying.

Leaving Stirling in an infinitely healthier situation than he found it, in 1980 he returned to Australia to become Director of Mental Health Services for New South Wales and, finally, 1983-92, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Flinders University, South Australia.

Tam Dalyell

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments