Designatory Letters: 
MB Glasg 1951, MRCP Edin 1959, FRCP Edin 1966

(Based on a tribute in the British Thyroid Association Newsletter written by Professor John Connell)

William Donald Alexander, Academic Physician, Endocrinologist, and a major figure in international thyroid research in the 1960’s and 1970’s died aged 79 on the 9th of May 2007.

Donald Alexander was born in 1928 into a family with a strong academic tradition; his father was Professor of English at the University of Glasgow. He was educated at the Glasgow Academy, and at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated after a distinguished undergraduate career with the Cullen medal in 1951. His early clinical training was in the Western Infirmary and in the MRC Rheumatic Fever Unit (which subsequently became the Atheroma Unit). His potential at that stage was recognised by Edward Wayne, the Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow and he quickly developed an academic interest in clinical and experimental aspects of thyroid disease. At that time Glasgow was a major centre for thyroid research and Donald worked alongside Wayne, Jim Crooks (latterly Professor of Medicine in Dundee), and international Fellows such as Dimitri Koutras from Athens. His early research culminated in the production of a book with Wayne and Koutras on clinical disorders of iodine metabolism.

Following this initial research training Donald Alexander moved, thereafter, to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda to work, as an MRC Travelling Fellow, with Jan Wolff on experimental aspects of iodine metabolism. In 1964 he returned to Glasgow as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine in the Western Infirmary; he spent the rest of his professional career there, being promoted to Reader in 1970, providing leadership in clinical and experimental aspects of thyroid disease and as a general internal Physician. He spent other periods of sabbatical study in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s, culminating in a six month attachment as a visiting Professor with Sidney Ingbar in Boston in 1975. He greatly valued these links to colleagues in the United States, and maintained close contacts with them in subsequent years. During this period of time he developed a series of important studies on aspects of antithyroid drug action and metabolism that still inform the clinical use of these agents today.

Donald Alexander retired in 1994 but developed a second career as a Medical Adviser to the Abbey National in Glasgow; he took final retirement from this position at the end of 2006. A shy and very private man who was unduly modest about his own achievements, he was widely read and highly articulate and was, in private, an excellent raconteur. He took great pride in the successful careers of those whom he had mentored – trainees included the late Donald McLarty; John Lazarus and John Connell.

His main interest outside his professional life lay with his family; as a student he won the national rifle championships at Bisley for two successful years and in later life dabbled, without conviction, in golf. He and his wife Ann had three daughters (Ann, Gillian and Elspeth) and Donald’s main interest was in their substantial professional, sporting and domestic achievements. He was a warm and much loved father and grandfather who will be greatly missed by his extended family.