A WONDERFUL chapter of Boggabri’s history closed last week with the death of Dr John Prior OAM, who served the community he loved for almost 50 years.
Dr Prior died on January 29, 2014, just a few weeks after his 92nd birthday.
He was remembered at a memorial service in Boggabri’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church, on Wednesday, after his funeral in Sydney earlier this week.
It was a sad day for Boggabri residents when Dr Prior hung up his stethoscope and closed the door on his surgery for the last time in 2002 – not just because the town had lost its doctor, but with his retirement they also lost a compassionate, caring friend.
Dr Prior belonged to the “old school” when a local GP delivered babies, performed operations and counselled, even turning his hand to the dentistry and veterinary fields as the need arose.
Born in 1922, he completed his medical training in 1945 and met his wife Betty after joining the Australian Army as a surgeon and pathologist for the Australian General Hospital and Beecroft Hospital in Japan.
Betty had been serving as a nurse with the occupation forces after the war.
The couple married in Japan in 1949 and began their long association with Boggabri in 1952, when Dr Prior took up the position as the town’s GP.
Described as “a tall man folded into a small navy-coloured Ford Prefect car, with Mrs Prior sitting beside him nursing their small baby Elizabeth” the couple immersed themselves in the small community and made it their own.
Side-by-side, they ran the surgery based in their family home. Mrs Prior was the practice nurse and receptionist, a role she carried out while raising a family of six children – Elizabeth, Michael, Anne, Felicity Jane, John and Fiona.
During his 50 years in general practice and as Visiting Medical Officer at Boggabri Hospital, Dr Prior was on call seven days a week and for most of the time he was the only doctor in town.
The compassionate GP covered the whole spectrum of general practice from delivering babies to surgery, and regularly made house calls to the elderly and infirm.
Although his practice took up so much of his time, Dr Prior also contributed to the wider community through many organisations and was honoured with a Rotary Paul Harris Fellowship in 1996.
He was patron of the Boggabri Rugby League Football Club and a past President and life member of the Boggabri Pony Club. and the Boggabri Hospital Auxiliary
An honorary member of the Wean Picnic Race Club and patron of the Boggabri branch of the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme, Dr Prior also took a great interest in the welfare of the frail aged in the community.
He was Vice-President of the Prior House Frail Aged Home and served on the committee for the new Boggabri Multi-Purpose Service, which was named in his honour when it opened in 2003, with the aged-care section named the Betty Prior Wing.
A former Boggabri Hospital Matron, Mavis Heywood, once described Dr Prior as “a very fine diagnostic physician with a dry sense of humour that soothed the often-frayed tempers”. She said “he was always fair and was seldom ruffled by anything or anyone”.
Dr Prior received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 1998 and the prestigious Premier’s Community Service Award in 2007.
When Dr Prior retired from general practice on June 28, 2002, at the age of 80, the couple had no thought of leaving their beloved town.
New England Area Health CEO, Stuart Schneider, said at the time “it is a very humbling experience to acknowledge the dedication and years of service of a man who has been practising medicine since before I was born”.
Mr Schneider conveyed the appreciation of the board of New England Area Health and its 3000 staff “for a service that will never be matched in this modern era of medicine”.
In retirement Dr Prior planned to convert his surgery into a library for his extensive range of books and the couple continued to enjoyed their garden and their community.
In 2009, Dr John Prior presented his wife Betty with 60 red roses for their diamond wedding anniversary and three years later they were separated by her death.
The funeral service for the late Dr John Prior was held at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery, last Monday.
He is survived by his sister Joan, and his family Elizabeth, Michael, Anne, Felicity Jane, John and Fiona and grandchildren Ben, David, Eliza, Sophie, Freya, Tim, Alexander, Isobel and Anthea.