Scottish obituaries: Surgeon, athlete, musician and craftsman

Bob Hay was a special man. A hugely gifted and highly accomplished individual in different walks of life – eminent surgeon, international athlete, talented musician and skilled craftsman to name but a few – he remained a modest, humble and complete gentleman.

In medicine, orthopedic surgery was his specialty and he practiced here, in Hong Kong and in England, and taught in several countries.

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On the athletics track, he represented Scotland six times in internationals, making his debut aged 19 at the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff over 440 meters before winning five consecutive Scottish championships in his strongest event, 440 meters hurdles, often called “the man killer” because of his strength and endurance requirements.

Bob Hay in action on the athletics track

Music figured heavily in his life; he began playing clarinet in school, later branching out to include French horn, bassoon, and bagpipes. Bob has also performed in numerous concerts and orchestras, including the capital’s Stockbridge Orchestra.

Carpentry was another enthusiasm, again stemming from school, when Bob found satisfaction in working with his hands in carpentry. He made quality furniture, Bob sensing an affinity with working “with the bones” in orthopedics.

Robert Lawrie Hay was born in Sunderland, the youngest of three children of Robert and Elizabeth (née Gilchrist), originally from Glasgow. Her older siblings were Janette and Andrew. Father Robert taught at Sunderland Technical College and Bob was first brought up in Ashington, attending Wansbeck Primary School. In 1948 Robert’s work took the family to Glasgow, where Bob attended Melville Street Primary School. As he found it difficult to adjust to life in Glasgow, he was delighted when the family moved three years later to Comely Bank in Edinburgh, where he began frequenting George Heriot’s; this turned out to be a happier time.

There, his love of the sport blossomed under Games Master Donald Hastie, who encouraged Bob “to compete fairly but expect to win.” Although he enjoyed rugby, athletics was his forte, with Bob winning the Scottish Schoolboys titles in the sprint hurdles and 440 yards and being a member of Heriot’s successful relay teams at the Scottish Junior Championships. In 1956 he was School Games champion, awarded the Ross Cup for his achievement in winning the 100, 220 and 440 metres, later adding the high jump and the discus. Off the sports field, he was captain of his house, Lauriston, and played clarinet in Usher Hall concerts.

Later that year he went to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine and, as a student-athlete, progressed in his career, competing in the 1958 Empire Games and winning a medal. silver in 1959 at the British University Championships over 440 yards. This led to selection for the World Student Games in Turin where his excellent opening run helped the British 4 x 440 yard relay team to bronze.

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Specializing in the 440m hurdles, he achieved the singular feat of five successive victories in the event at the Scottish Championships between 1959 and 1963, while collecting medals in the 440m hurdles and the decathlon. Bob also represented Scotland in five other contests, twice winning the 440m hurdles against Ireland and appearing in the Scottish rankings in seven different events, a major points winner for the Heriot and Octavians teams.

In 1963, at Tilney St Lawrence’s Church, Norfolk, Bob married Joan Whittell, another doctor – they met at a medical conference in 1956. The couple enjoyed a long and happy marriage, during which they had three children, Fiona, Nick and Chris.

While working at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary the prospect of doing surgery began to appeal and after encouragement from a senior colleague Bob started as a Registrar in the specialty.

In 1971 he went to Hong Kong to gain more experience, spending two years as senior registrar at Sandy Bay Orthopedic Hospital, performing reconstructive surgeries, mainly of the spine, on children. In his spare time, Bob played squash, sailed his Chinese junk and played clarinet in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Returning to the UK, he held a number of locum consultancy positions, including one in Stoke-on-Trent where he gained experience in hip replacement surgery, a discipline in which he would specialise. Bob then secured a permanent consultancy position at Medway Hospital in Chatham where he spent 20 happy and fulfilling years undertaking hip and spine surgery and teaching students at the London Hospital. During the holidays he taught in Zimbabwe, Western Australia and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Before retiring in 2003, his services were widely sought in the forensic field, examining claimants in Harley Street surgery before appearing as an expert witness in litigation.

Back in the new town of Edinburgh, Bob’s interests included golf at Bruntsfield Links, mountain walking, rugby and sport in general, his musical pursuits and sailing. He also enjoyed the family’s holiday home in Comrie, where his workshop facilitated his carpentry, making furniture, music stands and special “wooden books” containing gifts for important occasions.

Another interest was membership in the Twenty Club, a discussion group which met at the New Club, while his exceptional memory for poetry meant regular appearances at Burns Suppers reciting Tam O’Shanter. His talents also extend to writing a play on Beethoven.

Above all, he will be remembered as a loving and much loved family man of many accomplishments in a life well lived. He is survived by his wife, sister, children and grandchildren Robbie, Catriona, Tabitha, Caspar and Lawrie.

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