George Blair was born at Birkenhead where his father, Charles James Blair, was a schoolmaster. His mother, Louisa, was the daughter of John Kynsey, a civil servant. ‘Billy’ as he was known to his friends, received his early education in Birkenhead and went on to the University of Edinburgh and the London Hospital, where he qualified with the conjoint in 1923. His early clinical experience as a house physician at the Brompton Hospital led to his interest in chest diseases, from which he himself suffered, and by 1933 he had decided to specialize in radiology, and initially obtained an unpaid post as clinical assistant in the X-ray department at the London Hospital. He was appointed radiologist to Harefield County Hospital in 1936. and began his successful career in radiology. He continued to work at the Harefield after being appointed as director of the X-ray departments at the Brompton and Great Ormond Street in 1946. He also gave considerable service to local institutions in Buckinghamshire. He became one of the leading chest radiologists of his day, finally retiring from the NHS in 1967, although he continued to practice in Harley Street until well after his 80th year.
In the post war years, Blair was one of the three leaders in thoracic radiology. It was a new and controversial discipline and there were times when he needed to call upon all his experience and knowledge to contest the challenges of Sir Peter Kerley [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII,p.317] and George Simon [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII,p.536], and radiological meetings tended to be very lively occasions.
Seeking a sounder basis for interpretation, Blair was among the first to use the Gough-Wentworth total lung section method for pathological-radiological correlation, with the assistance of his colleagues in pathology. He rarely disappointed radiologists who sought his opinion on difficult cases, and his papers were meticulously and elegantly delivered. His powerful visual memory enabled him to remember many patients by their lung patterns. As a teacher he was outstanding in reporting sessions and covered a large volume of work, particularly in mass surveys, yet he never lifted a finger - so that his self-winding watch kept stopping.
Billy was an authority on thoracic conditions in children, especially tuberculosis, at a time when such conditions were more common, and his first article in The British Journal of Radiology was on the interpretation of children’s chest X-rays. He also wrote lucidly and with authority on thoracic trauma, lung abscess and other infections.
Based on the work of Foster-Carter and Hoyle, he established the importance of pulmonary anatomy in relation to disease, best exemplified by the chapters on segmental lesions in the lung in Modern Trends in Radiology, 1948. Although less well documented, he also wrote papers on bone disease, e.g. in the reticuloses.
Blair possessed great organizational and administrative ability and was genuinely director of his two main departments; his skill in committee management being largely due to his meticulous advance preparation. He was elected to the Faculty of Radiologists in 1954, becoming vice-president in 1956, and was honorary president of the European Society of Paediatric Radiology during the London congress in 1961. In 1946, he was awarded La Medaille Vermeil de la Reconnaissance Française for his services to the French community in Britain during the war.
Billy married Olive Stewart Brown in 1927. There were no children of the marriage and his wife predeceased him by a few years. He had relied heavily on her unfailing support and after her death, being himself in failing health, he withdrew from medical and social activities, apart from his private practice. He ran a very successful practice in Harley Street where he was greatly dependent on his radiographer, Maureen Wild. And in his hospital departments he always ensured that his juniors did all the physical work while he himself was truly a consultant; this inactivity possibly resulting from his early ill health.
Blair had a quiet, reserved personality, controlled and dignified, but when challenged he could produce reserves of sardonic wit. He was at his best during small gatherings of colleagues, such as club meetings, when he was greatly encouraging to younger members.
His favourite leisure pursuits were fishing and shooting, and he had his own pheasant shoot near Amersham; he was a very good host and enjoyed sharing it with friends.
Sir Thomas Lodge
[Clinical Radiol., Nov 1985,p.552]