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Sir Donald MacAlister


(1st Baronet of Tarbert)

1854 - 1934

Academic. Born in Perth, the son of a publisher's agent who moved his family to Aberdeen and then Liverpool, where MacAlister was educated at the Liverpool Institute for Boys from 1866. He then read mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge. He was one of the first to understand the log-normal distribution in probability theory, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (1879). After a couple of years teaching mathematics at Harrow, he returned to study medicine. He became known as an effective administrator and went on to become President of the General Medical Council in 1904, serving until 1931. He was appointed Principal of the University of Glasgow (1907-29), overseeing a significant expansion, and was then elected its Chancellor, serving from 1929 until his death. He served on many government commissions, including the Royal Commission on the Civil Service (1912-15). He was given honorary doctorates by thirteen universities, was knighted in 1908 and created a Baronet (of Tarbert) in 1924. MacAlister was also a noted linguist, said to speak nineteen languages. He died in Cambridge where he lies buried.


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