Professor Sir James Gordon Robson CBE

Professor Sir James Gordon Robson CBE MB ChB FFARCS DA

Known as: Gordon

18/03/1921 to 23/07/2007

Place of birth:  Stirling, Scotland

Nationality: British

CRN:  515973

Education and qualifications

General education

Stirling High School followed by the Medical School, University of Glasgow

Primary medical qualification(s)

MB ChB, Glasgow, 1944

Initial Fellowship and type

FFARCS by Election

Year of Fellowship


Other qualification(s)

DA (RCP&S), 1948


Professional life and career

Postgraduate career

Robson’s first house job was in Stirling (obstetrics) and lasted just six months as he joined the RAMC and was posted to East Africa, where he had anaesthetic duties during 1945-48. On demobilisation with the rank of Captain, he held for the next three years a senior registrar post in anaesthetics in Glasgow, working under Dr ‘Tony’ Pinkerton. In 1951 he was appointed First Assistant to EA Pask, the first Professor of Anaesthetics in the University of Durham at Newcastle upon Tyne. Next in 1954 he was appointed Consultant Anaesthetist at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where he had Dr John Gillies as mentor; this led to him being offered and commencing the inaugural Wellcome Research Chair in Anaesthetics at McGill University in Montreal in 1956. Robson took up a fresh challenge in 1964: the Chair in Anaesthesia at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, London. There he remained until his retirement in 1986.   

Professional interests and activities

While in Montreal, Robson researched and published on halothane and the neurophysiology of anaesthetic drugs. At Hammersmith, his Department was a mecca for high-flying anaesthetists of all grades, whether for teaching or research, producing numerous publications. Between 1976 and 1979 he developed criteria for diagnosing brain death with inter-disciplinary agreement, aided by his being Honorary Secretary of the Conference of Royal Medical Colleges.

He was a member of the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthetists and served as Dean for 1973-76. In this role he introduced the inspection of medical departments for training purposes and withdrew recognition if supervision of trainees was found to be inadequate. Notably he was elected Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1977 – the first anaesthetist in that role. He was President of the Scottish Society of Anaesthetists (SSA) for 1985-86 and also President of the Royal Society of Medicine for 1986-88.

He received many awards for his work: Clover Lecturer, Faculty of Anaesthetists; CBE 1976; Gillies Lecturer, SSA 1978; Knighthood 1982; John Snow Medal, AAGBI 1986. He was elected Hon FFARACS 1968; FRCS 1977; Hon FDSRCS 1979; Hon FFARCSI 1980; Hon DSc McGill 1984; Hon FRCPC 1988; Hon FRSocMed 1989; Hon DSc Glasgow 1991; Hon FRCPS Glasgow 1993.    


Other biographical information

Gordon Robson in his younger days played cricket, enjoyed sailing and was a good motor mechanic. He married Martha Kennedy (a medical practitioner) in 1945 and they had one son; Martha died in 1975. His second marriage in 1984 was to Jennifer Kilpatrick, who survived him.  

Author and sources


Dr Alistair McKenzie

Sources and comments:

[1] Biographical Entry, Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows Online. [2] Paine C. Obituary Sir Gordon Robson. The Guardian, 4 April 2007. [3] McKenzie AG. The Centenary of the Scottish Society of Anaesthetists 1914-2014.