Sir Donald Macalister ( 1854-1934 ), Principal and Vice-Chancellor and, later, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, was born at Perth, Scotland, on 17 May 1854 . His father was a publisher's agent, living successively in Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, and, Liverpool. He had a large family and narrow means, so that his son had not only to provide for his own education but, in his early adulthood, to bear the greater part of the maintenance and education of his younger brothers and sisters. After attending various schools, MacAlister went in 1866 to Liverpool Institute, before, in 1873, studying mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1877 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman. In November 1877, he became a fellow at St. John's.
After a brief period as a mathematical Master at Harrow, MacAlister turned to his original intention of studying medicine, first at Cambridge, later in 1879, at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, England, and for a short time at Leipzig, Germany. In 1881, he settled in Cambridge, and took up medical teaching and practice. He held the positions of Linacre lecturer, of deputy to the Regius Professor of Physic, and in 1884, when he graduated MD, of physician to Addenbrooke's Hospital. He was also editor of the Practitioner, 1882-1895, and Senior Tutor at St John's College, 1900-1904.
His main energies were already drawn to organisation and administration, and he took an active part in college and university affairs. In 1889, he was the representative of Cambridge on the General Medical Council. This became one of his chief fields of activity; he was a member for forty-four years, and for twenty-seven years, 1904-1931, he was President.
In 1907, MacAlister was appointed Principal of the University of Glasgow. In his twenty-two years of office, he presided over a great expansion of the University. To a remarkable degree he gained the confidence of city and University alike, and gathered support both for his building programme and for the endowment of teaching posts. During his time as Principal, twenty-two new Chairs and many Lectureships were founded, and in 1929, work was completed on the University Chapel, a project that was of special interest to him. On his retirement as Principal, in 1929, he was elected Chancellor of the University.
MacAlister's health was never completely reliable, but he had immense resolution, industry, and staying power. Apart from the affairs of the General Medical Council, he took a leading part in the general university business of the country. He was one of the founders of the Universities Bureau of the British Empire, and was for many years Chairman of the Standing Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the British Universities. He served on many government commissions, including the Treasury Committee of 1908 on the University of Wales, the commission on the Queen's University, Belfast, and the royal commission on the civil service, 1912-1915. On medical matters, he was Chairman of the British Pharmacopeia committee, and of the Medical Consultative committee of the Scottish Board of Health, and had a long and active association with the development of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service board. He was also Vice-Chairman of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.
MacAlister was fond of travel, and acquired languages with great ease. He had a special interest in Russian and Romani, and was president of the Gypsy Lore Society, in 1915. He died at Cambridge, on 15 January 1934 .