Neville was the epitome of general practice
I first met Neville Andersen in February 1970 at a Leura Training Seminar where we trying to improve our skills as general practitioners.
We were in a role-play; he was the patient with a headache and I was the doctor. If you ever want to test your mettle as a doctor, try a role-play with a doctor as the patient, with all his wiles and experience, in front of a crowd of your peers, patients and other health professionals. It is an unforgettable experience.
He had the qualities that anyone would look for in their family doctor. After qualifying in medicine from Sydney University in 1945 at the age of 23, he undertook training at Marrickville and Cloncurry Hospitals, followed by a number of locums in general practice to prepare himself to become a medical missionary in Papua. Neville married Patricia at the end of 1947. He was meticulous in his preparation to go to Papua and obtained a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene before he went there. His insight and humility showed through when he told me only this year that he wished he had had more medical and surgical skills when he was there in 1948–53. On his return to Australia, to gain more skills, he worked at the Royal Hospital for Women in 1953–54. Only then did he feel he was prepared for general practice in Fairfield where he remained until 1973, during which time he gave generously of his knowledge and skills to patients and medical students alike.
Neville joined the NSW Faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners (the British College) in 1956 and immediately became a member of the Research Committee. From that time on research was one of his consuming passions, showing his tenacity, loyalty and thirst for learning. He was one of the last surviving Foundation Members of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), to which he gave unstintingly of his time for the rest of his life. He was one of those irreplaceable people who helped drive the College to greater heights. He took pride in the fact that he achieved second place in the Tasmania Prize Essay Competition in 1967, looking at “Objective Measurement – Quality Control in General Practice”. He became the Nuffield Travelling Fellow for five months in 1970, researching the role of Departments of General Practice in Teaching and Research. He served as a member of the Research Committee of Council from 1968–87 and was its Chairman from 1971–75. He was the author of numerous articles, publications, books and monographs, individually or with others on research and other subjects, about 41 in all. As a member of the College Grants Advisory Committee, he gave invaluable advice not only to the Committee but to the recipients of research awards in the form of ongoing mentoring in their research.
In 1987, the College Archives Committee was reformed after a period in abeyance and he was appointed secretary. We knew little about archives but Neville, with his customary chuckle and usual assiduous way, moulded our thinking to develop the College archives into a collection of which we can be proud. Initially we published a history of the College 1978–88 and he undertook the task of the editorial coordination of its publication. The archives were documented and collated by Patricia Thompson, a trained archivist, with Neville taking a keen interest in the process. A collection of oral histories was initiated, with Neville being the driving force as Oral History Coordinator. Now, the College has a full time Archivist, Tom Burgell, to ensure that the archives are functioning well and improving all the time. I am sure that without Neville’s enthusiasm our standards would have fallen well short of their mark.
The NSW Faculty Board benefited from his membership from 1968–81 and he was its representative on a number of government instrumentalities from 1973–93. That included working with the Investigation Committee of the Medical Board and as a nominee member on the Medical Tribunal.
He was a pioneer in community medicine and was the first appointment to the post of Director of Community Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital 1973–81, and later Director of the Primary Care Unit at Westmead Hospital from 1981–87, teaching the skills of caring for patients and the community.
Apart from his devotion to his church as an elder and his many other interests, I would just like to mention Neville as a poet. It was a late discovery of mine that he was a good poet. He seemed to derive great enjoyment from writing verse. My favourite one was “The Crow’s Threefold Amen”. I regarded this as a testament to his acute observation. As a country boy I would hear the familiar ‘car, car, caaar’ of the crows calling to each other and Neville’s interpretation of this as a threefold amen resonated with me.
Despite his battles in recent years with failing eyesight and increasing respiratory problems, he remained tenacious and buoyant to the end.
Vale Neville, I shall surely miss my chats with you.
Alan Eric Fisher
AM, MBBS, FRACGP, FRCGP
RACGP Life Fellow, former RACGP President,
Honorary Secretary and Chair of the Archives Committee