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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2008 January 12; 336(7635): 103.
PMCID: PMC2190236

William Kerr Henderson

Dr William Kerr Henderson (“Bill”) has died from complications following a fall at the age of 95 years.

Bill and his younger sister, Jean, were brought up singlehandedly by their mother in Edinburgh, their father having been killed in the first world war in 1917. Bill was educated at Parson’s Green primary school before entering George Heriot’s School as a foundationer. He had a successful school career, with notable academic achievement alongside a place in the rugby first XV and the development of a lifelong passion for the game of golf. He was lucky to survive a burst appendix complicated by peritonitis in the pre-antibiotic era during that time.

Bill started medical training at Edinburgh University in 1929, graduating in 1935 with commendation. House jobs and a surgical research post in Bradford then followed, before marriage to Thora, when the lure of a secure salary and the challenge of general practice took him to the Bridge Street practice in Hawick in 1937. There he developed a keen interest in GP obstetric practice, and, unusually for that time, a keen interest in further education and academic research, culminating in MRCP (Ed) and an MD from his alma mater for research into hypertension during pregnancy. Throughout the second world war he continued to work in Hawick, but moved to the Scottish Home and Health Department (SHHD), initially in Glasgow, in 1947. While at the SHHD his skills as an organiser and innovator were recognised and he progressed to senior and subsequently principal medical officer, by then working from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. His responsibility when in Edinburgh was mainly for general practice. With his knowledge, guidance, and encouragement, especially after a period of research into the health services of other European countries, he was a key architect of many of the changes in general practice during the 1960s and ’70s. These changes saw the development of structured training and proper recognition for the specialty of general practice, as well as improvements in working practices and amenities. During this time he was elected a fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of General Practitioners. He also became a fellow of the Faculty of Community Medicine. He never lost his enthusiasm for clinical work, and in his early retirement he returned to some more limited clinical practice.

Bill was a quiet and modest man, who was devoted to his family. His greatest sadnesses were the death of his eldest child, Olive, at the age of 20 from Hodgkin’s disease, and the death of his wife of 44 years, in 1982 from cancer. He continued to take a lively interest in his family of two sons, their wives, seven grandchildren, and, in recent years, eight great-grandchildren.

Golf was a lifelong passion. He was a member of several different golf clubs, his favourite being Gullane, and he had a low single figure handicap for many years. He continued playing into his 90s until failing health prevented him. His one regret was that despite many achievements on the golf course he never shot a hole in one!

His long life was underpinned by a secure and deep Christian faith, which he shared with many, including his family. He was an ordained elder of the Church of Scotland for 61 years. He had a particular love of and knowledge of church music.

He is survived by his two sons, Andrew and John, and their wives; and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Several of his family have followed him into the medical profession.


Former general practitioner Hawick, Scottish Borders, and medical administrator Scottish Home and Health Department, Glasgow and Edinburgh (b 2 July 1912; q Edinburgh 1935; MD, FRCPE, FRCGP), died on 23 October 2007 as a result of complications after a fall.

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