What age would he have been forty years ago?
There is a photograph of Dr Michael Richards in Wetlands, Patrick Sutherland and Adam Nicolson’s 1986 book on life in the Somerset levels. Already his tight curls seemed more grey than dark. Tweed jacket, flannels, collar and tie, he was the embodiment of reassurance, the epitome of what a country doctor should be.
There was no bus service from our village and if you had no car, there was no way of getting to the surgery in Langport, our local small town, so once a week the doctor would come to the village to hold a surgery.
For someone who grew up in the village, a doctor who came and conducted a medical surgery in the pub was worthy of remembrance.
It is hard to imagine in the days of practice managers, and ‘on call’ services, that any doctor would consider a pub a proper place for medical practice. I have no doubt that medical care is best provided in appropriate facilities, but the Wednesday afternoon surgeries in the village did say something about regard for individuals.
Moving to Ireland in 1983, I missed the sort of care provided by Dr Richards and his colleagues in Langport Surgery. There were no longer the familiar faces in the waiting room, no longer doctors who might care for three generations.
It was a day in late October 1998 that I had cause to return to Langport Surgery. A night ferry crossing from Belfast to Liverpool had contended with 65 knot winds and I had been violently seasick, so sick that acid from my stomach had burned my throat.
The ever genial Dr Richards had smiled sympathetically and prescribed a large bottle of Gaviscon. ‘Don’t I know you?’ he had asked.
‘Perhaps,’ I replied, ‘I was a patient here when I was young. I was very asthmatic.’
Memories of him are of a man who was always calm, patient, solicitous, a manwho represented the National Health Service at its best.
Talking to my mother this evening, she described going to get her Covid booster vaccination yesterday.
‘I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand very long. Sarah had taken the wheelchair out of the car for me to sit in when a volunteer appeared to push it. The volunteers were retired staff. Do you know who pushed my chair? Dr Richards!’
Dr Richards must be well into his seventies, if not more. There was a moment of delight in hearing the best of doctors was still active.