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Alan Proctor Grant (1918 - 2004):
Physician; hospital administrator

Alan Proctor Grant was for most of his career a physician at Belfast City Hospital, where besides his medical work he was heavily involved in the development of the hospital, as it transformed from an old workhouse and fever hospital into a large modern general hospital, one of the largest in the British Isles. He also had the distinction of being the first Ulster doctor ever to be elected President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in its by then 323-year history. 

Grant was born in Dublin, son of Charles Grant, an officer in the British army who before the First World War had qualified as a barrister and accountant and worked as a local government official; he served throughout the war in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, seeing action at such engagements as the notorious Battle of the Somme. However, with the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, he took up a post in the new administration there, the Principalship of the Local Government Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs, living at “Ardmore”, Croft Road, Holywood County Down. Alan was sent to a boarding school in Southsea, England, followed by Trent College in Derbyshire. He entered Queen’s University in 1935 to study medicine, graduated MB BCh and volunteered for service in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served in North Africa with the 8th Army and joined the American First Army in the Anzio landings, being twice mentioned in despatches. He was awarded an MD with commendation in 1946. 

After leaving the army he took up a post in Belfast City Hospital, where he would spend the rest of his career. Though a physician in general medicine he did take a special interest in diabetes, and did some work on the new insulin pump, but his knowledge was wise, he was a fine clinician and popular teacher. He once described how his work planning the new hospital involved new building literally on top of the graves of victims of cholera, famine, and the effects, gruesome as they could be, of sheer destitution. In 1979, as a tribute to his work and in recognition of his being a senior physician, he “topped out” the new hospital. In his role as a physician he spent some time working at the Maze Prison outside Belfast, where one of his functions was to treat prisoners on hunger strike there. 

He was an enthusiastic President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, to which he was appointed in 1977 holding office until 1979. According to the tradition of the College, he was officially installed at their St Luke’s day Dinner. The incoming President has the privilege of selecting which member should formally introduce him; Grant chose another Ulster physician (albeit from the “other” large Belfast hospital). Grant had been a Fellow since 1954, the only Fellow admitted that year; the body itself dates back directly to 1654 and the Fraternity of Physicians, granted a Royal Charter in 1667 by King Charles II as the College of Physicians in Dublin, and elevated again in 1692, under William III and Mary II, changing its name to the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland. (This cumbrous nomenclature was the result of the King and Queen both reigning in their own right, though it survived until 1892, one tale related being of a Fellow being asked what “FKGCPI” meant after his name – was he some kind of lawyer?). Grant’s election to the Presidency of this body is thus noteworthy in itself, especially given the excellence of Ulster medicine which was far from negligible in a province whose first medical school, for example, was established as far back as 1835. 

Grant was no stranger to Dublin, of course, but his visits there were occasional rather than frequent, for example meetings of the RCPI, or acting as an external examiner. But at that time, cross-border travel was far from the seamless journey of the 21st century. On one occasion a train Grant was travelling on was shot at near the border, there were constant diversions due to “suspect devices”, and once, when crossing the border by car at night, he came upon some masked figures wielding Armalite rifles, then usually associated with the IRS and other groups Grant thought of stopping for them but instead decided to swerve up an even darker lane and drive as fast as he could. In these circumstances, a President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland specifically from Ulster, had more than just a 240-mile round trip to negotiate in a post which might usually involve meetings in Dublin twice per week. This logistical problem was alleviated (not removed as Grant still travelled to Dublin regularly) by sympathetic colleagues in situ, though Grant recalled later that his bigger problems involved “Dublin medico-politics”. (“Council meetings were still difficult when what was said turned out to be less important than what was no said.”). Not just medico-politics: in 1979, it was decided to commemorate, on the centenary of his death, Sir Dominic Corrigan, a highly distinguished figure in Irish medicine of the nineteenth century. A short religious ceremony and wreath-laying at the grave were planned. When Grant appeared for the ceremony, he was informed that no Catholic priest would attend, as Corrigan, though a catholic himself, had been buried in a Church of Ireland (Protestant) graveyard. Grant therefore, at short notice had to conduct the service himself. 

Corrigan was the individual who inspired a number of physicians from North and South to form the Corrigan Club in the Royal College, in 1959. This club was specifically for the promotion of cross-border contacts, and during his term as President of the College, Grant was keen to promote this, rather informal, group – certainly its spirit. Already in 1969, Belfast Fellows of this mind organised a Belfast Dinner, which was held in that city at a particularly bad period, and while some members did travel from the South and the occasion passed off satisfactorily, what was hoped for, some kind of regular Belfast fixture, never came to pass. However, an all-day Scientific Meeting and Dinner was held in 1985. Grant of course was not only supportive, but was one of a panel of distinguished physicians to read a paper (in his case, on Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a condition which affects the brain function). 

Additionally, Grant was President of the Northern Ireland Red Cross.  He was also a frequent contributor to the Ulster Medical Journal for almost three decades (1954-1982) and a strong advocate in the interests of the Belfast City Hospital and its status as a major teaching hospital for Queen’s University, Belfast. His career achievements were recognised by his appointment as CBE. 

Grant was an imposing man in appearance, though all who knew him found this at odds with a gentle personality. He was keen on boating and spent much time on Strangford Lough not just sailing for his own pleasure but always willing to give a hand up to the following boating generation. 

He was survived by his wife Jane, whom he met in Naples during the war when she was a nursing sister, and three children.

Born: 27 July 1918
Died: 1 April 2004
Richard Froggatt

Sir Peter Froggatt


David Mitchell: 25 Years: An Interim History of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, 1963-1988 (Dublin, RCPI 1992); JDW Widdess: A History of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland 1654-1963 (E&S Livingstone, 1963);;; private information