Professor Alexander Adam

17 July 1920 - 20 December 2009

One of seven children to a northeast farmer, “Alex” attended Aberdeen University, gaining his medical degree before military medical service in India and Burma. After demobilisation, he trained in Aberdeen, Inverness and London, returning to Aberdeen as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Honorary Senior Lecturer in 1956. He developed the orthopaedic surgical services for children, with a particular interest in the management of club foot for which his team had an international reputation, and congenital dislocation of the hip, replacing, for many infants, the plaster cast to maintain hip abduction with a plastic device which fitted over the baby’s nappy. He performed the first total hip replacement in Aberdeen in 1969 and, similarly, pioneered the use of Swanson knuckle implants in north east Scotland.

As a medical practitioner, he was universally admired by colleagues and patients who had absolute confidence in him. In his retirement appreciation, it was recorded that he was “the best all round orthopaedic surgeon in Aberdeen and a role model for generations of trainees”. He recognised genuine advances in surgery and rejected mere clinical fashions with an unerring ability to determine when to operate and, more importantly, when not to.

A life-long member and supporter of Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society (MedChi), after his retirement in 1983, he pursued a new career as Honorary Librarian to MedChi, continuing to be very active in the role to within a few days of his death in 2009. With an extraordinary knowledge of the NHS since its inception and the medical heritage of the Northeast of Scotland, in particular, he devoted many years to researching and documenting the lives of notable Aberdeen medical graduates and local medical practitioners. He was always looking for opportunities to enhance the reputation of Aberdeen in the history of medicine, regularly contributing articles and sharing his knowledge.

Behind a relatively quiet and, sometimes, gruff exterior, he was an extremely compassionate, honourable, modest and morally courageous individual, gentle and kind, with utter integrity. As a role model and mentor, he was regarded with great affection by all the school children, students and trainees whom he constantly encouraged and supported, particularly in becoming medical students at Aberdeen University. As progenitor of two further generations of Aberdeen medical graduates (son and grandson), Professor Adam should be especially esteemed and remembered as a representative of all  unassuming Aberdeen medical graduates who have made, and continue to make, inestimable, often unrecognised and unheralded contributions to medical practice and quiet, effective innovation, some of whose histories he dedicated his retirement to collecting, and all of whom the University should extol.

There is an interview on the university's Oral History archive.

Image: Portrait belonging to Aberdeen Medico Chirurgical Society

Biography prepared from the nomination made by Prof J H K Grieve to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.