David Campbell was born at Patna, Ayrshire, and educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow University, where he graduated with honours in the faculties of both arts and medicine, with the addition of a BSc from the science faculty. As a student in three faculties he took an active part in student affairs over a number of years When he graduated in medicine in 1916 he went straight into the RAMC, where he served with distinction in France and was awarded the Military Cross.
On completing his military service in 1919 he was appointed assistant to the professor of materia medica and therapeutics in his old university, and it was in this field of medicine that he made his career and reputation as a distinguished teacher, physician and administrator.
In 1924, when he was Pollok lecturer in pharmacology and therapeutics, his MD thesis was awarded first class honours and the coveted Bellahouston gold medal. From 1925 to 1926 he was one of the first of a distinguished line of Rockefeller fellows who made Johns Hopkins University their US base. In 1930 he moved to Aberdeen to become the regius professor of materia medica and therapeutics and a consultant physician in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Within two years his drive and clear-headed shrewdness had won him the respect of his colleagues and he was elected dean of the Faculty of Medicine, a post to which he was re-elected at three-yearly intervals for the next twenty-seven years!
He was the doyen of an able, self-confident and autocratic group of Glaswegians who dominated the Medical Faculty of Aberdeen University in the ‘30s and ‘40s - John Cruickshank and John Young (from the ‘Bobby’ Muir stable), James Learmonth and, last in time of appointment but not least, Dugald Baird. It was this team under David Campbell’s leadership that diluted the north-eastern parochialism of the medical faculty and enhanced its well-deserved national and international reputation for excellence.
David Campbell was nominated to represent the University of Aberdeen on the General Medical Council in 1936 and continued to do so for the next twenty-five years, the last twelve of these as its president. His effectiveness as an administrator lay in careful selection and preparation of items for the agenda of the many committees which he chaired, a shrewd knowledge of his colleagues’ personalities, and an uncanny sense of timing. It is probably apocryphal, but credible, that, on occasions when he had to catch the night train to London immediately after a faculty meeting, he would draft the minutes before the meeting and they rarely had to be altered.
As a teacher he belonged to the old school of pharmacologists, whose lectures took the student through a pharmacopoeia dominated by tinctures, powders, pills and compounds. His own Handbook of Therapeutics was a classic of its time. He never used notes other than the sheets extracted from the pharmacopoeia and circulated to the class. These had to be memorized, and disaster awaited the student who did not know the doses of nostrums that have long since disappeared from chemists’ shelves. His classes were fully attended and few dared sleep in the 2-3 p.m. lectures given throughout the summer term. His watchful eye, quick wit and pawky humour were helpful stimulants.
In spite of his administrative commitments he retained full responsibility for patients in his medical wards, and his remarkable memory, acute observation and attention to detail made him an able and respected physician.
He had many honours bestowed upon him. He was knighted in 1953 and was an LLD of Aberdeen, Dublin, Glasgow and Liverpool, and DCL of Durham, and a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and Glasgow, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
His recreation was golf, at which he was a creditable performer, and for many years he could regularly break ‘80’ and defeat most members of the faculty. On one occasion returning by train from a match between the Senates of Glasgow and Aberdeen at Prestwick he regaled the carriage with a detailed account of every one of the 78 shots he had played to defeat his opponent!
He married in 1921 Margaret, only daughter of Alexander Lyle of Kerse. There were no children. He died at the age of 89 at his home in Milltimber, Aberdeenshire.
*Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."
† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.
[Brit.med.J., 1978, 2, 61; Lancet, 1978, 2, 55; Times, 15 June 1978]