Robert McWhirter was distinguished for development of modern radiotherapy and treatment of cancer in Scotland, for advances in treatment of breast cancer, and for founding and building up the Department of Radiotherapy in the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh.
He was born in Ballantrae, Ayrshire, where his father was the local school master who taught Latin and Greek to his ‘high flyers’ and shorthand and typing to the others. His father ‘held his pupils spellbound’ when talking about Biology, and this passed to his son, who from childhood was interested in the wonders of nature and in checking facts. In 1917 he moved on to Girvan Academy, where there were equally inspiring teachers – five years later he qualified for entrance to Glasgow University. McWhirter became even more interested in Medicine and graduated in 1927 with High Commendation. He had continued to question his teachers. He had been told that congenital pyloric stenosis was commoner in first born children ‘for unknown reasons’. He soon discovered that this applied also to almost all problems of infancy; the simple reason was of course that first born children are always commoner than second!