Our own Walter Raleighs: the story behind the photograph
On the day of her death, we shared a black and white photograph of Her Majesty The Queen on the University home page and social media.
The image, from Special Collections, shows a young Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to Dundee in June 1955 during which she renamed University College – then part of the University of St Andrews – to Queen’s College.
The Queen can be seen walking out of a doorway past a Mace-bearer and a saluting soldier. At a window behind them, a group of students look out at their Queen, smiling. Beneath the monarch’s feet are items which, had the image been in colour, would have been instantly recognisable as the red undergraduate gowns of St Andrews.
The gowns had been placed there by medical students so that the Queen would not get her feet wet on what was a day of particularly Scottish weather.
The visit to Dundee was part of a Royal Tour of Scotland for the young Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, and the touching gesture was captured on film by British Pathé News.
It may have been 67 years ago, but the memories of that day are still fresh for Professor Neil Buist, one of the four chivalrous students who laid down their gowns. Neil saw the photograph on our social media and got in touch to share his story.
Neil said: “I was inordinately chuffed to see that the University of St Andrews had shared the picture of the Queen leaving the new Queen’s College, Dundee, in 1955.
“I was the instigator of that particular escapade and it is my gown that she is standing on when the photo was taken.
“There was a carpet strip in place, but I thought it would be a quixotic act if we were to cast our gowns down in front of the Queen as she exited. I enrolled three other medical students in the caper and, as the Queen walked out, we dashed forward and cast our gowns over the red carpet, à la Sir Walter Raleigh.
“I did not think it would go viral! My main concern was that she might trip on the rumpled gowns or that we would all be arrested.”
Far from being arrested, the Queen was visibly taken with the gesture and Neil later received a telegram addressed only to ‘Neil Buist, C/O Sir Walter Raleigh, Dundee’, the sender of which remains unknown.
The following year, Neil graduated with a degree in medicine and went on to work in both Arbroath Infirmary and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. This was followed by two years as Regimental Medical Officer to several military units in the Far East, after which he returned to Scotland and worked in Paediatrics and as a lecturer in Child Health. Neil was then awarded a fellowship in Biochemical Genetics at the University of Colorado and made his home in the USA.
For 35 years Neil ran the largest Metabolic Clinic in the USA and was involved in multiple clinical and research projects that characterised at least ten new genetic disorders. He worked with an innovative newborn screening programme that introduced many of the tests still used today.
In 2014, Neil submitted a thesis to the University for the Degree of MD Doctor of Medicine. The thesis, a collection of articles spanning 50 years of research, was awarded the Rutherford Gold Medal for lifetime achievement.
In the same year, Neil donated his much-loved red undergraduate gown to our museums, where it can be seen in our digital archive.
Neil is 90 years old now, and has lived in Portland, Oregon, for 58 years. The Buist family connections to the University go beyond Neil, however, as both his parents were St Andrews students and now his granddaughter Bryn Buist-Haverkamp is a second-year in the School of Management and plays volleyball for the Saints Sport first team.
When asked how she felt about her Grandpa’s act of gallantry for the Queen, Bryn said: “It was very cool to hear this story growing up, and then to go to St Andrews and see the picture was very special.”
Bryn went on to say how much she loves the community at St Andrews: “Everyone is so friendly and fun to be around. Especially the volleyball club.”
Bryn’s grandfather’s legacy to Scotland is more than just a sweet story of chivalry for a young Queen. Neil retains a fondness for St Andrews, and also for Dundee, the city where he studied – Queen’s College becoming part of the University of Dundee when it was founded in 1967.
Neil and his family have supported both our own University and the University of Dundee, the latter through the Buist Fund.
The purpose of the Buist Fund is to support in-country education and training for paediatricians and allied health professionals in low- to middle-income countries that will improve clinical skills and health outcomes, particularly those of girls and women, within their country and community.
Modestly, for a man who has such a rich and valued history with both institutions, Neil said: “It is quite something to think that one has contributed to the history of both St Andrews and Dundee Universities.”