Dr Zena Burgess spoke on behalf of the RACGP at the funeral of Emeritus Professor Peter Mudge AM
For those who don’t know me, my name is Zena Burgess and I am the CEO of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners – an organisation that Professor Peter Mudge left an indelible impression on.
Peter was Chair of the RACGP Council for seven years and Patron of the RACGP Foundation. He holds a Rose–Hunt Medal – the RACGP’s most prestigious honour – for his remarkable contribution to the organisation.
We were so respectful of Peter’s dedication to the RACGP that the council named a medal after him. The RACGP Foundation Peter Mudge medal was established to honour his immense work in general practice and research.
But, of course, listing his many accomplishments doesn’t even begin to hint at the sort of person Peter was. Peter was a true gentleman. He was a passionate, curious, intelligent, funny and creative man who will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Peter was a wonderful Chair of Council. He managed the group of highly intelligent GPs and staff in an expert way through use of raised eyebrows and cups of tea.
Peter never raised his voice or expressed anger. Instead, when matters became heated Peter would raise one eyebrow – a trick I have yet to learn – which resulted in an immediate change in tone or behaviour.
Peter also perfected the strategic use of tea breaks. If debates reached an impasse, a tea break was announced. Somehow, during the break Peter would ensure all parties talked and once the meeting resumed solutions emerged. Peter had the expert ability to coach and reprimand in a firm but gracious way.
Staff at all levels loved Peter’s visits and would line up to exchange professional and personal news with him. A day at the college was always action-packed with many of us seeking Peter’s advice. Although it was enjoyable for Peter, in his later years it was also tiring.
Reaching out to RACGP members and employees who knew Peter was a reminder of just how special he was.
Adjunct Professor Janice Bell, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Post Fellowship Education and CEO of WAGPET [Western Australian General Practice Education and Training], told me that Peter was always the voice of reason, open mindedness and courage. She recalled a testy national board meeting which Peter chaired where everyone was heard and no one was able to intimidate anyone. She said that she will miss him dreadfully.
Former RACGP President Professor Claire Jackson said Peter was there for her when she was a young mother trying to balance child rearing and professional growth. He tore up the established rulebook and created the sort of supportive workplace many now take for granted.
Past President Dr Chris Mitchell described Peter as having the ability to say ‘no’ with kindness and when the answer was ‘yes’ – which was often – he inspired infectious enthusiasm. Chris told me about the long, early-morning walks in Hobart he shared with Peter, [his wife] Val and their dog. It was a great opportunity to listen to Peter’s sage advice, as well as Val’s.
Manager of the RACGP Foundation Clare Finucane told me about how deeply Peter cared for the Foundation and general practice research. Clare said that as his health declined he told members of the team how he wanted the Foundation to go on and continue its mission of creating a sound evidence-based future for general practice.
At a time when it sometimes seems as though self-promotion and ego are the norm, it’s important to reflect on people like Peter, a man who was incurably humble
Peter described himself as a modest researcher despite winning the Faulding Prize for Research in 1982. He was an accomplished academic and teacher. Yet Peter credited a lot of the satisfaction he derived from teaching to having ‘young ones keeping me alive and keeping me on the ball’.
He was always curious to learn more and wasn’t one for platitudes or self-aggrandisement.
Peter’s work was all about furthering general practice – nothing more, nothing less.
He explained his preference for living and working in the country town of Berri by saying, ‘You’re much closer to people’.
He identified his most rewarding legacy as the people he mentored. Giving people jobs, inspiring them and helping them with their research. For Peter, they were on the same journey as him – learning, innovating, researching and, in the process, improving the treatment of patients.
I suspect if you were to have asked Peter in his final days what his greatest achievement was, his answer wouldn’t mention the awards, the accolades, the praise or even the medal named in his honour. Nor the fact that he was a giant of general practice research and advocacy.
Instead, I believe this answer would be something like this: ‘I worked in a profession I loved, I helped people and I enjoyed every minute of it’.
Written by Dr Zena Burgess was originally published in newsGP 11 October 2019.