Obitiary: George Rafferty, respected Highlands veterinary surgeon who featured in TV documentary

George Rafferty, vet. Born: 1 March, 1926 in Rutherglen, Glasgow. Died: 9 November, 2017 in Grantown-on-Spey, aged 91.

Veterinary surgeon George Rafferty has died at the age of 91

George Rafferty’s work at the Highland Wildlife Park resulted in him being the vet called to recapture Hercules, the wrestling bear and TV star, in 1980. Hercules had escaped during the filming of a commercial on the island of Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides, and evaded capture for 24 days.

Taken up in a helicopter, George took aim and fired a dart loaded with powerful anaesthetic to sedate Hercules. The helicopter landed for George to lasso the bear to the ground and inject a second dose. Hercules was safely rolled into a net and transported back to captivity, suspended from the helicopter.

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George graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh. After a few years working in the south, he set up his plate in Grantown-on-Spey in 1954. Together with the dedicated support of his wife, Jane, he built up the mixed, mainly farm animal practice.

George was committed to his clients, turning out night and day and in all weathers to provide a veterinary service. He worked hard to build the practice, covering a vast area in the north east of Scotland. His son, Andrew, also graduated from the Dick Vet School and joined his father at the practice.

George had an open mind and was forward-thinking. Before many farm animal practices did so, he took on his first female assistant, namely myself, in 1985 which was a fairly radical move at that time.

Andrew managed the practice after his father retired and, without a family successor, considered selling to a veterinary corporate business. Andrew approached the subject with his father with some trepidation, not sure how George would view the sale of the family business. However, George appreciated the changes in the model of veterinary practice and challenges in agriculture. He was fully supportive of Andrew’s decision which would ensure the viability and sustainability of the practice.

In 1989, George was the star of the documentary, The Vet – Beyond the Surgery Door, an early foray into reality TV. The cameras followed George on his rounds revealing the life of a country vet, a modern-day Siegfried Farnon.

George was respected by his clients and well known to enjoy an apres-calving dram and lively banter after a difficult delivery.

“He knew how important his role was in the local farming community and delivered everything with poise and grace, fully understanding that the loss of any animal to a struggling farmer could deliver a serious financial blow,” said Andrew.

“He was an inspiration, treating everything from cows and sheep on farms, to much-loved family pets in the surgery, to lynx at the Wildlife Park and worked extremely hard to develop one of the best and most diverse practices in Scotland.”

In 1986 George was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Inverness-shire and in 1991 awarded an MBE for services to the agricultural community.

In the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 George was quick to volunteer to assist. He spent months working in the field in Dumfries-shire as a Temporary Veterinary Inspector, examining cattle and sheep and reporting findings to Defra Headquarters in Page Street, London.

After he retired, at 70 years of age, George took to the hills with his faithful Jack Russell, as a grouse and pheasant beater at a number of estates, including Balmoral. “He quickly taught the keepers how they should run their shoots, train their dogs and we are sure they are all eternally grateful for their new-found knowledge,” said son-in-law, John Kirk.

George was a well known character in the community and not just in agricultural circles. Every fortnight he visited the local hospice, where he entertained the residents with his stories, a highlight for them. He also applied his formidable energies to community projects including the Grantown Museum and Strathspey Probus Club..

George was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015, and responded well to surgery and chemotherapy. However, it returned earlier this year and was inoperable. “His condition slowly deteriorated but he never complained,” said Andrew.

“We are eternally grateful for the fulfilled life he led, to the many, many friends he made and for the support from healthcare professionals in the last few weeks.”

George died peacefully, with Jane by his side.

After a private family burial, a memorial service was held at Inverallan Church, Grantown-on-Spey. Hundreds attended to pay their respects.

Among his last words to family and friends was an assertion that, ‘Life is precious.’ He certainly squeezed every drop from his own life.

George is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jane, four children; John, Jean, Andrew and Anne, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.