Mollie McGeown

Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005

Mollie McGeown


by John Trimble

An outstanding physician and clinical scientist

Mollie McGeown was one of Northern Ireland’s most outstanding physicians and clinical scientists. Her greatest achievement was to establish, in the early years of kidney transplantation, an effective regimen (the ‘Belfast Recipe’), based on a low dose steroid policy, which resulted in excellent graft survival rates. She used her clinical and laboratory experience to play a leading role in the development of renal services, both regionally and nationally.

Professor Mary G (Mollie) McGeown
CBE, DSc, MD, PhD, FRCP(Lon), FRCP (Edin), FRCPI. Consultant Nephrologist, Belfast City Hospital and Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast Founder of the Northern Ireland Renal Service 1958. Born Lurgan, Northern Ireland 19th July 1923, died 21st November 2004

Born in 1923 of farming stock, she excelled as a medical student, graduating with honours from Queen’s University Belfast in 1947. After a period in laboratory medicine, from which she gained a PhD in biochemistry, she became clinical research fellow at the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1958 she was appointed to set up a dialysis service, at first for acute, and later for end-stage chronic renal failure. Supported by a small but dedicated team and largely learning ‘on the job’, she created the nucleus of a Renal Unit.

The Belfast Recipe produced cumulative five year survival figures for transplanted kidneys of over eighty percent, showing that transplantation could be made both effective and relatively safe. With the subsequent advent of new immunosuppressive drugs, success rates in all transplant centres steadily improved.

A pioneer in the development of transplantation

Throughout her medical career, Mollie continued to spearhead the development of nephrology, dialysis and transplantation in Northern Ireland.

Her renowned administrative and personal skills determined her election to many positions of distinction, including Presidency of the Renal Association, and Ulster Medical Society. In 1985 she was awarded the CBE for services to Medicine, in 1988 became the first Professorial Fellow in Medicine at QUB, and in 1998 on the 50th anniversary of the NHS, she was named as one of the 50 women who had contributed most to the success of the NHS. Interviewed at the time for the anniversary book, she was asked how she would like to be remembered, and answered "as one who was glad, indeed proud to have been part of the NHS". Mollie spent her entire career in the NHS and did no private work.

Small in physical stature, she exercised great clinical and moral authority. She aimed at excellence and expected the same of her colleagues. Able to overawe and compel by personality, she nevertheless inspired respect, affection and love in many. This was best demonstrated by the admiration of patients, the loyalty of former pupils and the devoted support of charity workers, especially those of the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund. This affection was fully reciprocated by Mollie, evidenced by her prolonged support of the Belfast Transplant Olympics Games team.

Mollie combined an exhausting medical career with a full-time role as housewife and mother. Married for many years to Max Freeland, until his death in 1982, she raised a family of talented boys who lacked no maternal attention. With her husband, and later on her own, she presided over a comfortable, efficient, morally admirable, liberal and enlightened household. Mollie was a truly exceptional human being.

The story of John Macoun

Craigavon Historical Society was delighted to count her as one of their members. While undertaking family research, she uncovered the story of John Macoun, probably a relation. Leaving Maralin in 1851 without formal education or capital, Macoun emigrated to Canada and later become a Professor of Natural History in Albert College, Belleville, Ontario. He earned a widespread reputation as a botanist and explored vast tracts of the north-west of Canada, influencing the course of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Mollie wrote up John Macoun’s story for Review and later gave a lecture on him to the Craigavon Historical Society. We shall miss her.

Based on Tribute to Mollie McGeown produced by the Renal Association -