Albert Blair Harrington

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 23 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5881
  1. Brian May

Albert Blair Harrington was brought up in Brisbane, Australia. He came to Britain as a young man in search of a medical training and studied for his MD at Aberdeen University. In 1939 he married Valerie White of Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, and a strong Irish connection was established. After the second world war, when he was a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps serving in the North African campaigns, Greece, and Crete, he returned to England. He aspired to a clinical career in neurology, notably as medical officer and deputy superintendent at Stoke Mandeville (1946-8) and medical superintendent at Dunstan Hill Hospital in Gateshead. Their daughter was born in 1945, but because Valerie had postnatal depression, Blair Harrington had to settle for a more regular position in the civil service and moved though several senior medical officer posts towards medical superintendent at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, (1954-56) rising eventually to PSMO (Under Sec) in the Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS; 1973-6), then head of the Civil Service Department Medical Advisory Service (1976-9), serving as chief medical adviser to the civil service.

He made a distinguished contribution in his management of the new hospital building programme of the 1960s and 70s, wrote many academic articles, and was a founding fellow (1972) of the Faculty of Community Medicine. In 1979 he was awarded the Order of Companion of the Bath, an honour, which, typically, he bore proudly but lightly. His understanding of and mastery of the labyrinths of community health management was amazing, and there is no doubt about how deeply he was respected among colleagues for his intellect and perspicacity. Blair Harrington was a generous man, donating to hundreds of charities and appeals during his life. These ranged widely in support terms but always focused on practical direct help—locally, nationally, and internationally. Many were medically related but not all—there were also social and community concerns.

In his retirement, Blair Harrington served on appointment boards and carried out invalidity assessments but chiefly he devoted himself to the nursing of his wife as she declined through Alzheimer’s disease. He was a modest man with a civil servant’s sense of humour—The Complete Yes Minister was favourite reading. He commanded affection and respect in the neighbourhood of Petersham, Surrey, where he lived for most of his married life, and he enjoyed the respect and love of three generations of family. He leaves his daughter, three grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5881


  • Former chief medical adviser to the civil service (b 1914; q 1938; CB, MD, FFCM), d 3 August 2013.

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