Former Wingham GP Dr Iain Sutherland passed away in Sydney, where he was residing at a residential care home close to his family, on June 11, 2018, at 88 years of age.
Iain’s daughter, Kirsty Hardman, said although her father had suffered from dementia over many years, his smile and the cheeky twinkle in his eye lasted until almost his last days and he had never forgotten his closest family and friends.
His son Neil delivered a moving eulogy at his funeral, which has been kindly provided by his family and is reproduced below.
I have watched in sadness as Dad has deteriorated over the last few years, but as I watched, I have spent a lot of time reflecting about Dad, on what made him so special, special not just to me and to the family, but special to all of us; special in ways that I probably didn’t really appreciate when I was younger.
And I think what made him so special was that there was so much in what he did and in the way he carried himself that we admired, that gave us that warm and fuzzy feeling.
Dad was a wonderful mix of irreverence, charm, caring, wit, wisdom, strength of character and mischievousness.
Perhaps the best single word to describe him was that he was a larrikin, a larrikin that we that we all wanted to be, well, just a little bit like. I know I certainly did.
I have to start with my memories of Dad as a doctor. I know you will hear shortly from Roy Scheepers about his memories of Dad, and I’m sure you will hear more of what he was like as a doctor, but it is impossible for me to separate the dad, from the doctor, because so much of who he was as Dad was due to his love of medicine.
Medicine was one of his passions, and it shaped so much of our family life. Our holidays, our weekends, our evenings were all heavily influenced by his responsibilities as a doctor. Sure he used to complain at times about the job, for example having to drive 60kms up into the bush in the middle of a winter’s night to (as he would put it) “deliver a youngster for a lass who didn’t have enough going on between the ears to be quite sure how she had managed to get pregnant in the first place”.
But deep down what he wanted to do was help people and that is exactly what he did for his entire life.
He certainly didn’t love the system, but he genuinely loved helping people. And they loved him. From a very early age, and throughout my life, I can remember often being asked in the streets of Wingham and Taree, “you’re Dr Sutherland’s son aren’t you?” and when I would reply, “yes” the response was always “such a lovely man”.
At home Dad was, a great Dad and a wonderful husband. He and Mum have been married since 1955, and, as clichéd as it sounds, you only ever needed to see them together to know that each of their world’s revolved around the other.
There is probably only a handful of days in their 63 years of marriage that they have not spent together. And on each of those days they were generally together for breakfast, lunch, a wee dram sitting out on the front verandah and then dinner. Quite fantastic.
I recall once playing soccer in the back garden with a mate, kicking towards the house! As you can predict one of us lifted the ball and it went crashing through the bedroom window. I thought life was about to end, but Dad’s only comment was, “was it a goal?” I think with time Dad even saw the funny side of Alasdair shooting one of our neighbors from up the road in the backside with berries from a slug gun.
Away from home and away from work Dad was an adventurer. His adventures, initially in Scotland and when we first came to Australia, revolved around fishing and hunting. There were many trips with his fishing partner Max Mace to precarious rocky outcrops or trips out into the ocean in small boats with no safety equipment and no-one onshore knowing where they were going. They didn’t give such things a second thought in those days.
Later the adventures moved into the bush as Dad caught the ‘fossicking’ bug. He took the family all over the east coast in pursuit of gold or gemstones, or petrified wood, or some other such spectacular rock, and he couldn’t be happier than when we were in some remote part of the bush trying to find the perfect fossicking spot, far from civilization (and phones), driving down a steep mountain track with little or no traction, really having no idea where we actually were.
Once at ‘the spot’, the joy was only increased when Dad was six feet down in a hole, his pick axe or shovel in his hand. Does it get better than that?
Perhaps the characteristic of Dad for which we will most remember him, was that he was such a bon vivant, a true raconteur, a story teller. Whether it was at home around the dinner table, with a group of friends or at one of the many functions which Dad was asked to MC, he had this magnificent ability to enthrall all those around him.
Dad had a wealth of stories which he could call upon, whether they be from his early days as a child battling with cobras in India, his days at boarding school at Loretto in Edinburgh when the first in line for a bath each week literally had to break the ice, or his days doing medicine at Edinburgh university where, based on the way he told it, the whole objective of being there seemed to be to drink beer, and to play practical jokes on the professors and fellow students.
One thing about Dad I will always remember is how passionate he was about his Scottish heritage – yes, he lived in Australia for 52 years, he loved Australia and saw an awful lot of it. In fact he has six Aussie grand-children, and four Aussie great grand-children, who all knew him as Doc.
But Scotland was always home. Maybe there were times when those glasses he was wearing had a strong tinge of rose colouring, but Scotland really shaped the man we knew and loved, and those strong memories kept him going, particularly as he got older. He was never happier than when he was wearing his kilt.
The last 10 years have been very hard on Dad. Sadly he has suffered from dementia which has robbed him of much of the life and spark that we all knew, but more so, the impact of Alasdair’s passing had an immeasurable impact on Dad and Mum.
As we say farewell to Dad, Kirsty and I have reflected on what he means to us. We certainly know that we have always sought to live by the values that we learnt from Dad, the sense of fair play, the sense of what is right and wrong, the ‘not taking life too seriously’, and we have tried to instill those same values in our kids.
Earlier I described Dad as a larrikin and I think this is the perfect word for him. Everybody loves a larrikin and everybody loved and respected Dad. They did so because for so much of the time he did the things we all wanted to do but just wouldn’t allow ourselves.
And I think it is this larrikin spirit in Dad which we will all always remember. It is certainly this larrikin spirit which we will all miss.
Doctor Iain Sutherland is fondly remembered by all who knew him at the Wingham Golf Club. From the early 70s, Doc played regularly on a Thursday morning with a group of close friends in the nine-hole ‘chook run’. Doc actually christened this group the ‘Ancient Ruins’ and the group is still going strong today and currently comprises 10 members.
Even when Doc had to give up playing about 12 years ago, he still attended various ‘Ruin’ functions, including the annual Christmas parties.
Doc’s golfing mates remember him as being a real larrikin with a wonderfully wicked insightful sense of humour. He possessed such a warm and friendly personality and treated everybody the same. He certainly enjoyed a wee dram of whisky and any offer to add water was rejected with the pithy reply, “It’s made with water”.
He and wife, Hilda, kindly donated their entire collection of precious and semi-precious stones to the Wingham museum where it is currently housed in a most impressive display.
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