Otago Daily Times
Made GP specialty recognised option
RICHARD PEARS was a compassionate doctor and a keen advocate for the place of the general practice in medicine.
He died in Wanaka on September 18, aged 88.
Richard Keith Pears, the middle son of Doris and James Pears, was born on June 26, 1932 at the Lumsden Maternity Hospital. He had an elder brother, Kenneth, and a younger brother, Rob.
The Pears family lived on a sheep station called Dunrobin Valley in the shadow of the Takitimu Mountains in northern Southland. Richard attended school locally until he was 11 then headed to Cathedral Grammar, followed by Christ’s College, in Christchurch. Home visits were few and far between.
Otago University followed in Dunedin, where he boarded at Selwyn College and gained entrance to Medical School, graduating in 1956.
He was married to Betty Watters at the same time and so started a very significant and supportive partnership over 62 years. Betty, who died in January 2019, was the daughter of Dr Watters, in Gore, Richard eventually taking over his practice.
This, however, was not before he had completed his residency years in Invercargill and Christchurch, and travelled overseas to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where he completed his Diploma in Anaesthetics. He also gained his Diploma in Obstetrics while in the United Kingdom.
Richard had prepared himself well for work as a GP in a country town where there was a local hospital with a resident surgeon needing help with anaesthesia, and a large obstetric practice.
He was at first practising from home but he did not accept this as ideal, especially for the family and also if a model of teamwork and colleagueship was to be established in GP practice, where afterhours work could be rostered and skills shared within a team relationship.
To this end, the Gore Medical Centre was opened in the late 1960s, the first medical centre in New Zealand. It became the vanguard for other very singular initiatives in general practice throughout the country.
The most significant development was that of pioneering a training programme for general practitioners, a remarkable and almost controversial initiative in those days, and done in tandem with and following the initiative of the renowned Dr Eric Elder, of Tuatapere.
Their thesis was that general practice was as much a specialty as any other medical discipline and that “sorting out the muddle in your head and finding a new way of working was the essence of reorientating hospitaltrained GPs”.
The Southland venture stimulated activity throughout the rest of the country.
Richard was one of the earliest “host” general practitioners. This was a huge undertaking, not only in the hosting, but in convincing the Royal New Zealand College of GPs to come on board and help with the immense amount of academic initiative and associated research needed in setting up a path to fellowship.
That included examinations, in parallel with consistent and regular reviews over time for GP registrars attached to practices like the Gore Medical Centre.
Richard directed the Southland scheme until 1980 then moved to Christchurch, where he was the Canterbury regional director until he retired in 1996.
Looking back, these times were a ‘‘ferment’’, coming out of Southland ‘‘of all places’’. Indeed, it was the explosion of general practice into a specialty.
There were lots of bureaucratic hurdles, and some quite rough spots in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It was eventually picked up by the universities and became a programme of quality, renamed the Family Medicine Training Programme.
Richard was granted an MSD (Merck & Co) fellowship to the United States in 1977 to further his studies in this area. Even when close to retirement, he helped set up a family medicine programme in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
As if that was not enough, Richard was one of the individuals who initiated the concept of the Gore and District Counselling Centre, a creative and much needed response to the mental health needs of the eastern/northern Southland and West Otago communities.
Opening in 1977, the centre continues to successfully provide counselling, psychotherapy, supervision and mental health education.
Richard was a compassionate man, who loved and supported Betty fully.
He was a great listener, according to his children (and his colleagues) with a lot of personal and spiritual depth. He had great patience, was seldom angry, and his judgement well considered.
He was a lay canon in the Christchurch Cathedral.
He loved the hills and the family’s hut up the North Etal Creek on the Dunrobin Valley estate — a wild but welcoming place with snow on the river flats in winter and the warm norwesters in summer. He loved wandering, stick in hand.
Richard is survived by his younger brother, Rob, his daughters, Rebecca and Anna, and sons Andrew and Richard.