Donald Macleod

Donald Macleod

Scottish Rugby was saddened to learn of the death last night of Past President, eminent surgeon and long-serving rugby medic Donald Macleod.  He was 81.

Hailed as the “grandfather of sports medicine in the UK”, Donald Macleod’s life was intertwined between rugby, medicine and family and he was always supremely generous in his time to anyone within the rugby community.

Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer and Scotland team doctor, James Robson, said: “Donald was unquestionably one of the pioneers.  He was pivotal to the adoption of professional standards in sports medicine and instrumental in securing its formal standing within the Royal College of Surgeons.”

Donald played in the back-row for Edinburgh Academicals but, typical of his modesty, reckoned he had “never been good enough” to progress from the club game.

In a different era, when the medical provision across a range of sports, appeared, with the benefit of hindsight, to be little more sophisticated than the “magic sponge”, Donald brought the meticulous attention to detail and care from his career as a surgeon as he ministered to Scotland’s rugby players for some 26 years.

Away from rugby, he was consultant general surgeon at Bangour General Hospital in West Lothian from 1975 to 2001, and associate postgraduate dean of surgery for south-east Scotland from 1993 to 2004. He was also an honorary professor of sports medicine at Aberdeen University from 1998 to 2003.

He served as vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 2001 to 2004; chair of the Intercollegiate Academic Board for Sports and Exercise Medicine from 1998 to 2003; president of the British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine from 1995 to 2002; and from 2005 to 2008 was chair of the medical committee for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games bid.

He also received the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine’s Sir Roger Bannister Medal in 2005 for outstanding contribution to sports medicine.


Donald Macleod presenting Finn Russell with his first cap in June 2014 in Houston, USA.

In rugby, Donald was Scotland team doctor from 1969, fulfilling the role as the game transitioned from the amateur era to professionalism.

His priority was always the health and wellbeing of his players, and he was Scotland team doctor at both the 1987 and 1991 Rugby World Cup tournaments, Scotland finishing in fourth position in the latter.

James Robson added: “I regard Donald as the grandfather of sports medicine in the UK. He was a massive inspiration to me.

“As I set out in my career in medicine, Donald was one of the two examiners in my final physio exam.  Several years later, he phoned me out of the blue to say he’d been following my career with interest and invited me to be physio on the Scotland tour of Canada and the United States before the 1991 World Cup.

“Donald set the standards.  He had been on a Lions tour in 1983 and I had the great pleasure of working with him as physio in his latter years as team doctor.”

On that 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand, Donald’s wise counsel and companionship was much valued by head coach Jim Telfer and Donald’s contribution to both the 1984 and 1990 Grand Slams may never have attracted the deserved plaudits of the head coach, but Telfer would be the first to highlight its significance.

Donald stepped down as Scotland team doctor in 1995 but he continued to give back to the game.  He was President of Selkirk Rugby Club from 2009-2011 and became Scottish Rugby president in 2013-14.

Scottish Rugby extends its sincere condolences to his wife Lucile, children Rona, Torquil and Janette and their families and all his many friends.

Thursday 24 November

  • Service of Thanksgiving in Innerleithen Parish Church Leithen Rd, Innerleithen EH44 6HX at 2pm, to which all friends are warmly invited.


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