Sir William Ferguson Anderson (1914–2001) Post 1

Anderson, Sir (William) Ferguson (1914–2001), geriatrician 

by John C. Brocklehurst 

© Oxford University Press 2004–13 All rights reserved

Anderson, Sir (William) Ferguson (1914–2001), geriatrician, was born on 8 April 1914 at 11 Lochside Street, Glasgow, the son of James Kirkwood Anderson, master plumber, and his wife, Sarah Barr, née Kerr. His father, a captain in the 7th Scottish Rifles, was killed on active service in Gaza in 1917. Educated at Merchiston Castle School and Glasgow Academy, Anderson studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, graduated MB ChB in 1936, and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1939. He spent three years as medical registrar in Noah Morris's department at Stobhill Hospital, where his interest was aroused in the nascent speciality of geriatrics. Morris, professor of materia medica and therapeutics at Glasgow University, instituted his clinical practice in Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow, a municipal hospital with a high proportion of elderly patients, many with chronic illnesses and so unacceptable in the voluntary teaching hospitals. Morris and his successor, Stanley Alstead, encouraged their medical staff to study ageing and old age in their practice and research.

On 25 September 1940, at Pollokshields East Church, Glasgow, Anderson married Margaret Battison Gebbie, the twenty-year-old daughter of Thomas Gebbie, public works contractor of Whitecraigs, Renfrewshire. They had a son and two daughters. From 1941 Anderson spent five years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in India and Germany. He graduated MD and won the University of Glasgow's Bellahouston gold medal in 1942. He returned to Glasgow in 1946 as senior lecturer in materia medica at the university and physician to Stobhill Hospital. In 1949 he moved to Cardiff as senior university lecturer and honorary consultant physician but three years later he returned to Glasgow as physician in geriatric medicine at Stobhill Hospital and Foresthall Hospital (part of the former Glasgow workhouse). He had the additional title of adviser in diseases of old age and chronic sickness to the western regional hospital board in Scotland and so could influence the development of geriatrics in the whole of Glasgow and western Scotland.

Geriatrics had emerged as a special branch of medicine when the recognition of medical neglect of old people in workhouse infirmaries and hospital chronic sick wards was demonstrated by Marjory Warren from her work at the West Middlesex County Hospital and its associated workhouse infirmary in the late 1930s. The speciality received official recognition with the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, and appointments as consultant physicians in geriatric medicine followed. As with many new specialities in the history of medicine, geriatrics encountered a good deal of scepticism, not to say hostility, from colleagues, particularly those who had some responsibility for care of these neglected elders. This occurred at Stobhill Hospital as elsewhere—indeed the proposed establishment of two geriatric wards was initially opposed by the medical staff committee who feared it would ‘adversely reflect on [Stobhill's] status as a teaching hospital’ (Brocklehurst, ‘Unsung heroes’). Anderson was the ideal person to overcome this prejudice with his calm and persuasive personality, his authority within medicine, and the support of the western regional hospital board of Scotland.

Anderson realized that teaching and research and therefore involvement in the university medical schools was required if geriatrics was to flourish as a speciality. He led by example, promoting the establishment of the Cargill chair of geriatric medicine in Glasgow University, the first in the country (and probably in the world). He occupied this chair with distinction from its establishment in 1965 until his retirement in 1979. He pioneered social and preventative medicine for older people at his drop-in centre in Rutherglen in association with Nairn Cowan, and as president of Crossroads (Scotland) Care Attendants Schemes, chairman of St Mungo's Old Folks' Club in Glasgow, vice-president of the Scottish Retirement Council, Age Concern Scotland, and the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation, and patron of the Abbeyfield Society for Scotland. For these local contributions the city of Glasgow awarded him the St Mungo prize in 1968. He was appointed OBE in 1961 and KBE in 1974. A fellow of the royal colleges of physicians of Edinburgh (1961), London (1964), Ireland (1975), and Canada (1976) as well as of Glasgow, his medical career was crowned with the presidencies of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (1974–6), of the British Geriatrics Society (1975–8), and of the British Medical Association (1977–8).

Anderson's zeal in forwarding the speciality was worldwide, and he became an ambassador for geriatrics. He was an adviser to the World Health Organization on the organization of medical care (1973–83), an honorary fellow of the American College of Physicians (1980) and of the Australian College of Medical Scientists (1971), and Fogerty international scholar at the National Institute on Aging, USA (1979); he received the Brookdale award of the Gerontological Society of America (1984). He undertook visiting professorships around the globe. In 1974 he was appointed a knight of St John.

Anderson's publications included Current Achievements in Geriatrics (1964), edited jointly with Bernard Isaacs, and Practical Management of the Elderly (1967), which ran to five editions by 1989 (the last two written jointly with Brian Williams). Known to friends and colleagues as Fergie, Anderson was a man of great charm and unusual humility combined with a gift of promoting a ‘feel good’ quality in others. He enjoyed foreign travel but spent most of his life in Glasgow, retiring to a house on the fringe of the Campsie Fells. He died on 28 June 2001 and was survived by his wife, Margaret, their son, James, and their two daughters, Mairi and Kathleen.



M. Warren, ‘Care of the chronic aged sick’, The Lancet, 1 (1946), 841–3 • W. F. Anderson and N. Cowan, ‘A consultative health centre for old people: the Rutherglen experiment’, The Lancet, 2 (1955), 239–40 • O. M. Watt, Stobhill Hospital: the first seventy years (1971) • The Herald [Glasgow] (21 July 2001) • BGS Newsletter (Sept 2001), 1–3 • BMJ, 323 (15 Sept 2001), 636 • ‘Geriatric medicine, current practice in Europe’, Brocklehurst's textbook of geriatric medicine, ed. R. C. Tallis and H. M. Fillit (2003) • Munk, Roll, 11, 2005, 18–20 • J. Brocklehurst, ‘Unsung heroes: Glasgow and the origin of geriatrics’, BGS Online Newsletter,, accessed on 11 Jan 2008 • WW (2001) • personal knowledge (2008) • private information (2008) • b. cert. • m. cert.



Greater Glasgow NHS Board, interview with Pat Thane  


BL NSA, oral history of geriatrics as a medical speciality, interview with M. Jefferys, 19 April 1991, C512/25/01


E. Robertson, photograph, 1978, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow • photograph, c.1980, British Geriatrics Society, London • photograph, repro. in BMJ (15 Sept 2001), 636 • photograph, repro. in British Geriatrics Society Newsletter (Sept 2001) • photograph, repro. in Brocklehurst's textbook, 1430 • 

Wealth at death  

£429,415.62: confirmation, 11 Oct 2001, CCI 

© Oxford University Press 2004–13 All rights reserved 

John C. Brocklehurst, ‘Anderson, Sir (William) Ferguson (1914–2001)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008 [, accessed ]

Sir (William) Ferguson Anderson (1914–2001): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/89563