Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 28-November-2008, Vol 121 No 1286
Ashton John Fitchett
Ashton John Fitchett, born in Wellington, died after a short illness, on 11 October 2008, aged 82 years. He grew up and lived most of his life in the suburb of Brooklyn, where his grandfather, also Ashton Fitchett, had cleared land and established a thriving dairy farm. The current Ashton Fitchett Drive there was named after his grandfather.
After his secondary education at Wellington College, he went on to Victoria University and Otago Medical School, graduating in 1951. He was a resident at Knox College.
As a member of the St Stephens Church Choir in Dunedin he met another chorister, Ruth Meikle, in 1947 and they married in Dunedin in 1950.
His 6th year was spent at Wellington Hospital, followed by a further 2 years as a House Surgeon.
Then came a year in Karamea on the West Coast—with his life-long friend, the late Dr Peter Anyon, being in nearby Granity.
In 1955 he started practising as a solo GP in rented premises back in Brooklyn again, whilst the future large two-storey family home was being built at 151 Owhiro Road with an adjoining purpose built surgery, now the site of the Brooklyn Medical Centre. Ashton worked there until his retirement in 1990.
Throughout those 35 years he always put the welfare of his patients above his own personal needs. Frequent House Calls were considered to be the norm. Ruth, a registered nurse was his only nurse/receptionist over all that time, whilst they brought up their three children. In the early years he was on-call 24 hours a day and worked 7 days a week.
In 1964 began the sharing of weekend duties with nearby doctors and a long-standing and happy relationship developed with the late Graeme Jenkins (another solo Brooklyn GP) and the late Malcolm Nicolson; Tom Farrar; and Eddie Sang from the adjoining suburb of Island Bay. The roster included being part-time port health officers, which involved going out in Wellington Harbour on the police launch the Lady Elizabeth, climbing up rope ladders on the side of ships and carrying out a forearm inspection of the crew for smallpox.
Ashton had an early interest in geriatrics, becoming the visiting doctor for the then Central Park Hospital, owned by the Wellington Hospital Board. Much later, in the 1980s, he was appointed to be in charge of the Geriatric Continuing Care Unit in what is now Ward 17 in Wellington Hospital.
For many years he was involved in teaching medical students on attachments to his surgery. He became an icon for GPs in Wellington, helping many young doctors early on in their careers.
With the establishment in the 1950s of the Royal College of General Practitioners in London, and later on membership becoming available to New Zealanders, Ashton became an early New Zealand member in 1965. 1974 saw the inauguration of the NZ College of General Practitioners (it became Royal in 1979) and he was a foundation member, in fact his membership number was 1.
The RNZCGP owes much to the efforts of Ashton Fitchett. He gave his time to it willingly and unsparingly. He held many positions in the College and was responsible for planning and implementing the shift of the headquarters from Christchurch to Wellington in 1983. He achieved the highest office in the College, becoming President in 1984. Ten years later he was made an Honorary Fellow, a rare distinction. He was a long-standing member of the New Zealand Medical Association which included a term as President of the Wellington Division.
His organisational skills were legendary as was his unique ability for detailed planning. There was always a little notebook, which seemed to have everything in it. He and Graham Woods organised a combined conference in Suva, of the College and the Fiji Medical Association in the 1970s. They were also responsible for the fundraising that led to the establishment of a Chair of General Practice at the Wellington School of Medicine.
In later years he was invited by the Medical Council of New Zealand to become a mentor for GPs who were having problems in their practising lives. After his retirement he worked for the After Hours Medical Centre in Wellington as an audit officer, only giving this up on his 80th birthday. He enjoyed his weekly visits there, saying it was now the only place where, apart from his family, he ever met young people.
Ashton had also been active in the broader community. He was a member of the Brooklyn Progressive Association and chairman of the Brooklyn Scout Group. He was renowned for highly organised fund raising bottle drives. He founded the Brooklyn Community Trust, which provided holidays for children of needy families. He was on the committees of the Wellington East Girls’ College and Wellington College Parents’ Associations and later became chairman of the Wellington College Board of Governors.
He was awarded an OBE in 1984 for services to Medicine and the Community and was honoured to receive it personally from the Queen at the investiture held during her visit to New Zealand.
In his younger days he was a keen tramper and with Ruth they did the Milford, Hollyford, and Heaphy tracks. He continued to be an avid walker right up to the week before his final illness. For a number of years he belonged to a Scottish Country Dancing Group.
Ruth and Ashton had quite a number of overseas holidays and three trips to World General Practice-WONCA conferences in Melbourne, Switzerland, and London. He loved his computer and was ahead of most of his generation in this, becoming a tutor at SeniorNet. He introduced Skype to his family!
Ashton had asymptomatic Chronic Lymphatic Leukaemia for about 20 years. In recent years he developed a number of illnesses, but always managed to come out on top of them. He and Ruth moved to the Rita Angus Retirement Village in the suburb of Kilbirnie in 2004, where they had a double apartment.
He was a regular attender at monthly retired GPs’ lunches and was all set to go on 2 October, when he suddenly became ill in the early hours of that morning and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Wellington Hospital with severe pneumonia, followed a week later by a stroke from which he did not recover.
The Miramar Uniting Church, where his funeral service took place, was overflowing. Eulogies were delivered by his three children, two of his grandchildren, Tom Farrar, and Ron Burgess (his weekly walking companion of recent years).
He is survived by Ruth, daughters Marion and Margaret, son Ashley, and five grandchildren.
Dr Tom Farrar (Retired GP, Island Bay Medical Centre, Wellington) wrote this obituary.
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