Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Michael McAlister Holmes, MB BCh BAO, DobstRCOG, DTM&H


Obituary published in the British Medical Journal in 1981


Dr M McA Holmes, who was senior medical officer with the Commonwealth Development Corporation in Swaziland, has died at the age of 55.


Michael McAlister Holmes was born in 1925 into a Northern Irish medical family. His father was a surgeon captain in the Royal Navy and a general practitioner at Llandovery, Carmarthenshire where Michael spent his childhood. Later he went to the Methodist College at Belfast and then graduated from Queen’s University in 1950.


After house jobs at the Royal Victoria and Royal Maternity hospitals, Belfast, he took a diploma in obstetrics. He spent a short time in general practice and then joined the Colonial Medical Service and went to Northern Nigeria, where he practised for 10 years.


Michael was a talented surgeon and an excellent diagnostician, and the challenge of practising medicine in difficult and sometimes primitive conditions was what he enjoyed most. He had a gift for organisation and generated enthusiasm among his patients and colleagues. He was appointed SMO, and, working for the Northern Nigerian Government, was responsible for the medical services of vast and heavily populated areas. As an administrator he had the art of keeping different nationalities and different sections of the community working harmoniously together, and he had seemingly unlimited energy.


After leaving Nigeria in 1963 he tried to settle in practice in Northern Ireland, but he missed the scope of medicine and life in general in Africa. In 1964 he joined a practice at Dar es Salaam, first as a partner and later as principal of the leading practice in the city. He left reluctantly in 1970 when financial restrictions for expatriates became increasingly difficult and worked in Aden for the British Petroleum Oil Company for three years. He returned to his home in County Down and again attempted to settle in Ireland, this time practising in the south. He enjoyed the people and country life, but again felt the pull of Africa, and in 1976 he took up an SMO post with the Commonwealth Development Corporation in North-east Swaziland and was back in his element. He was instrumental in having a complete new clinic and maternity unit built, the latter opening just two months before he died.


With his irrepressible good humour, he had the capacity of doing the unexpected—a feature that his wife and family had long given up trying to control. His warm, friendly, cheerful personality endeared him to his patients, to whom he was dedicated. In his early life he had rowed and played rugby, later polo. He was a good shot, but gave up shooting for the camera, for he had a great love and concern for wild life and conservation. Michael, who had such zest for life, showed great cheerfulness and courage during his long illness. He is survived by his wife Ruth, a son, and a daughter who is a medical student at Cambridge.

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