Francis Irvine Caird – specialist in geriatric medicine

Born 24 Aug 1928

Died 26 June 2011

BA Oxon(1950) BM BCh(1953) MRCP(1955) DM(1960) FRCP(1973)

Francis Irvine Caird was the David Cargill professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1979 to 1994, and one of the key academic geriatricians of his generation at a stage when the specialty was unfashionable and genuine research lacking. He had medicine in his genes. His grandfather, Francis M Caird, was professor of clinical surgery in Edinburgh and the author of the textbook “A surgical handbook: for the use of students, practitioners, etc.” (London, C Griffin & Co, 1916). Francis’ father, Karl Francis Caird, was a general practitioner, while his mother, Nora Annandale Irvine, was the daughter of a doctor.

Francis attended Winchester College and often used to talk about hearing bombers fly by during the latter part of the Second World War. After completing a BA in animal physiology from New College in Oxford in 1950, he became a clinical scholar at the Radcliffe Infirmary and graduated MB BCh in 1953. He then completed his National Service as a clinical officer in medicine, spending part of his time at Cowglen Hospital, in Glasgow, a venue where, in future years, some of his patients would be based.

Following his demobilisation, he worked in and around Oxford and Birmingham. He was awarded a DM by the University of Oxford in 1960 for his research on the diagnosis and progression of cardiac valvular disease in older people. Despite this avowed interest in cardiovascular disease, he still found time in the 1960s to publish on diabetes with the up-and-coming George Alberti.

Francis decided on a career in academic geriatric medicine and was persuaded by the charismatic (later Sir) Ferguson Anderson to go to Glasgow in 1967 as a senior lecturer and an honorary consultant at Stobhill Hospital. Francis was appointed as a reader in 1975 and subsequently succeeded his mentor in 1979. He moved from Stobhill to the Southern General Hospital, where he aligned the department closely with the regional neurology and neurosurgical services. He provided a clinical service for neurological disorders in older age at a time when access to specialist care was difficult for older people. He often related his experiences in utilising L-dopa preparations for the first time in yet another of his subspecialty interests, Parkinson’s disease.

Many of the geriatric medicine trainees in the west of Scotland benefited from passing through Francis’ department and learnt first-hand of his skills as a clinical scientist. Communication with patients and sometimes staff, however, was not always his strong point, and it often seemed that his mind was working two or three stages ahead of everyone else, an impression further reinforced by his imposing demeanour and classic Oxbridge mien. The job of ‘sweeper after ward rounds’, to ensure appropriate understanding, was one experienced by many who now hold prestigious posts. Francis could always be guaranteed to have the best interests of his patients at heart and backed his staff to the hilt, often in difficult political circumstances.

A trainee working with Francis could be guaranteed to be involved in research and given full credit for their work. Likewise, he had a great respect for the professions allied to medicine (particularly speech and language therapy) and their role in rehabilitation, and he published extensively on this subject. His publications were widely read by clinicians across the world and made a genuine impact on the development of the specialty of geriatric medicine internationally. His contributions were recognised formally by the award of an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in 1992 and the British Geriatrics Society’s president’s medal in 1993.

Francis was essentially a shy man and not given to public speaking, although his written work was exquisite. He was not a fan of large gatherings, especially so following the death of his wife Angela (née Alsop), a physiotherapist, in 1984. This event presaged a difficult time both academically and socially for Francis, but, never afraid of long hours and hard work, he re-established profitable academic and professional links. A book of his published papers was presented to him by his colleagues in Scotland at his retirement, followed by his request for the return of all the slides they had borrowed over the years.

Francis’s health could be poor and it was often evident that he was taking steroids for his asthma, when he was even more hyper than normal. After his retirement he moved back to Oxford to be nearer his three children and indulged his taste in fine food and wine, as evidenced by a rapidly expanding waistline. He also gave generously of his time to the British Geriatrics Society, acting as section editor for Age and Ageing. Even during the last four years of his life Francis remained intellectually very active and was keen to converse with his children about articles in the BMJ and The Times. His historical and world knowledge, spelling and ability to read ancient Greek remained impressive right until the end. He was survived by his son Richard and daughters Katie and Susie.

Paul Knight
David Stott
Brian Williams