William Stewart Hillis

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 26 August 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5158
  1. Stuart Murray,
  2. John MacLean,
  3. Frank Dunn

Pioneer in sports science, and doctor to the Scottish football team

Stewart Hillis had been actively involved in the preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He was diagnosed as having mesothelioma in May and continued to work till mid-June. He died two days before the opening ceremony.

Stewart was born in Clydebank, the son of a foreman at John Brown’s shipyard, two years after the town was devastated in the Blitz during the second world war. He was educated in Clydebank and at Glasgow University.

During his early postgraduate training with Gavin Shaw, he became interested in cardiology and in 1971 was appointed registrar in the University of Glasgow’s cardiology department with Professor T D V Lawrie. His career progressed rapidly. He showed considerable talent in invasive investigations, and that became a distinguishing feature of his career. After spending a year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, he was appointed consultant cardiologist to Glasgow’s Stobhill Hospital in 1977. It was there that he began pivotal studies in relation to intracoronary and intravenous thrombolysis. He converted the back area of the critical care unit into a coronary angiographic facility and set up a 24/7 service that allowed assessment of artery patency after thrombolytic therapy. This work contributed substantially to the understanding of thrombolysis and was the groundwork for the beneficial use of these agents in acute myocardial infarction.

In 1982 Stewart was appointed to the post of senior lecturer in the University of Glasgow’s Department of Materia Medica, although he continued his full time commitment as a consultant cardiologist. He subsequently became a reader and was awarded a personal chair in cardiovascular and exercise medicine in 1997. He served the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow well as an examiner and organiser of educational events.

Most cardiologists have one subspecialist interest. Stewart Hillis had several: intervention, academic research, clinical pharmacology, exercise and sports medicine, and adult congenital heart disease. He was a gifted teacher and trained a considerable number of the current cardiology consultant workforce in Scotland and beyond.

His contribution to the subject of adult congenital heart disease was remarkable in that he was in his 50s when he took on this daunting challenge. Many patients had undergone lifesaving operations as children and had other health and learning challenges, as well having to make the difficult transition from the protected environment of a children’s hospital to the less personal adult hospital. They were, in a sense, lost, and their parents also felt lost. Stewart had run the service at Yorkhill Hospital and then led the initiative to form a national adult congenital heart disease service at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank.

In 2010 he became a senior research fellow and emeritus professor, and was awarded the OBE for services to cardiology, and sport and exercise medicine.

Football is a national obsession in Scotland, and this provided the opportunity for Stewart Hillis to develop sports medicine and science. His understanding of the benefits of exercise in the prevention and treatment of disease predated the general acceptance of physical inactivity as a risk factor. Stewart combined the promotion of activity medically with being team doctor for 27 years at Clydebank Football Club, and for one year with Rangers. He became medical consultant with the Scottish Football Association (SFA) in 1977, and the international team doctor in 1982. He attended three World Cup finals and two European championships, and by the time of his retirement in 2012 he had provided medical care at 228 international matches, a world record for a team doctor. Since 1990 he had been vice chairman of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) medical committee, and he was the lead of the antidoping programme for the SFA, and tournament medical and antidoping organiser for UEFA and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). He lobbied successfully for a sports medicine centre at Hampden Park, where he introduced antidoping checks and cardiac screening and assessments of young athletes. The latter was funded initially by the Scottish government, and the success has resulted in their continued funding. The deployment of defibrillators in sports centres and stadiums was another initiative he pioneered.

He started the MSc and BSc degrees in sports and exercise medicine in 1995 and remained course director until 2012. Stewart had a special interest in cardiovascular screening, working with the Scottish government to lead the Cardiac Assessment in Young Athletes (CAYA) programme.

He was in Cardiff in 1985, when Jock Stein—the Scotland manager—collapsed and died. Scotland qualified for the Mexico World Cup in 1986. Stewart worked with the new manager, Alex Ferguson, and they became close friends. Sir Alex delivered a tribute at Stewart’s memorial service.

Scotland’s current manager, Gordon Strachan, said “He was great company and was hugely respected in his job. There’s nothing more you can ask of your team doctor, but ‘the Prof’ always lit up the room with his personality.”

In 2008 Stewart was awarded the prestigious Sir Robert Atkin prize by the Institute of Sports and Exercise Medicine. He was awarded the 2014 Sir Roger Bannister Award for outstanding contributions to sport and exercise medicine. Stewart learned of this award, which delighted him, shortly before his death.

Stewart was an enthusiast in all that he did and had anecdotes on his many activities. He used humour—usually directed against himself—to great effect and received many invitations throughout Scotland to speak on his sports medicine experiences.

Stewart had a deep faith and was a long serving elder and on occasion a lay preacher in Abbotsford Church in Clydebank. He recently chaired and convened the committee that appointed a minister for newly linked parishes. A great supporter of youth development in the church, he was captain of the boys’ brigade for many years.

He leaves his wife, Anne; three sons; and a daughter.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5158


  • Emeritus professor in cardiology and sport and exercise medicine (b 1943; q Glasgow University, 1967; OBE, FRCPS Glas), died from mesothelioma and prostate cancer on 21 July 2014.

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