Obituary: Dr Frederick Nicoll, MB, ChB, general practitioner

Dr. Frederick Nicoll. Picture: Contributed
Dr. Frederick Nicoll. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 1 December, 1929, in Dundee. Died: 17 December, 2013, in Eyemouth, aged 84.

Fred Nicoll, family doctor, was the very essence of a gentleman and always appreciated how fortunate he was to live for more than 50 years in the fishing town of Eyemouth. There, he ran a general practitioner practice with his wife Ann and took every opportunity to participate in community life.

Frederick (Fred) James Nicoll was born to the late George and Agnes Nicoll in Dundee in 1929 and brought up with his younger brother Maxwell in the Angus town of Forfar.

He was named after his uncle, Frederick Lamond, who died in Rouen, France in 1916 after sustaining wounds during the Great War. Fred’s father was a cattle dealer and his mother a nurse. Fred, an adventurous boy, spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm, North Mains, where he learnt to ride horses and developed a keen interest in the outdoor life.

During the Second World War, Polish soldiers were stationed in Forfar and a young Polish officer, a talented pianist, was billeted in Fred’s home. The family spent many evenings captivated by his wonderful playing of Polish love songs which instilled in Fred a lifelong love of music.

After leaving Forfar Academy in 1948, Fred was called up for National Service with the Royal Army Medical Corps, based at Aldershot, England. There, he learnt shorthand, at which he excelled, and continued to use throughout his professional life.

In 1949 Fred went onto study medicine at Edinburgh University, where he met his wife to-be, Ann Sutherland. After graduating, they married in 1956 and then moved to Forres in 1957 with their baby daughter, and where Fred took up the post of assistant general practitioner.

In 1961, with three young daughters, the family moved to Eyemouth, Berwickshire, where Fred and Ann set up in general practice in the family home. Soon, two more daughters followed and eventually a son (town flags were flown to celebrate the arrival of a boy after five girls!).

Holding surgeries in the family home wasn’t always ideal, sometimes requiring the children to tip-toe en route to the bathroom past waiting patients, and so the practice moved initially to the Old School House in Albert Road, with a small branch surgery in the nearby village of Ayton, and then to the purpose-built Eyemouth Health Centre in 1983.

Fred and Ann complemented each other in their medical practice; Ann, unable to drive, would conduct many clinics and manage the increasing amount of paperwork while Fred could be called out day or night to drive to patients far afield or to scenes of accidents.

With sometimes perilous local industries such as fishing and farming and some deceptively dangerous local country roads, Fred developed considerable expertise in emergency care. This was extended through his involvement with the Eyemouth Lifeboat, taking part in sea and cliff rescues, and with the local Red Cross Society providing professional advice and supervision, stimulating and developing Adult First Aid training.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) was one of Fred’s passions. He served as honorary medical advisor (HMA) for many years and his long-time affiliation was recognised in being awarded a silver badge from the Scottish Lifeboat Council in 1989 and a gold badge from His Royal Highness, The Duke of Kent, president of the RNLI, in 1996.

When asked to summarise the three best qualities for being an RNLI HMA, Fred reported: “1. Young – to be active, 2. Good looking – to build up the casualty’s morale, and 3. Recently retired – to be able to devote time to the position.”

Fred had an affinity for marine activities and was enthralled by the daily lives and stories of the local fishing community. He was the owner of various watercraft and an enthusiastic sailor in his yacht, time and tide permitting.

Fred was fascinated with the undersea world and, inspired by Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s account of Scuba diving, he co-founded the Eyemouth and District Sub-Aqua Club (EDSAC) in 1961. One of the first sub-aqua clubs in the UK, EDSAC quickly gained support in the community by assisting local fishermen with underwater inspection and salvage of their boats and equipment.

These were pioneering days for Scuba diving and Fred and his fellow members chose to make their own diving suits – in his case a pile of paper templates, neoprene, glue and yellow electrical tape on the lounge floor indicating that a new item of sub-aqua sartorial elegance would soon be ready.

As Eyemouth and its surroundings became known as one of the most popular Scuba diving destinations in the UK, Fred’s knowledge of diving proved to be vital in providing medical assistance to divers who got into difficulties.

Fred was creative and enjoyed making items that would be useful. One particularly successful “gadget” was a waterproof case for his cine camera which enabled him to engage in underwater photography. A surprise visitor, “Danny”, a dolphin, arrived in Eyemouth Bay in 1967, allowing Fred to hone his underwater filming skills. His resulting cine footage was used by marine biologists to diagnose what was ailing Danny.

As a keen photographer, Fred was renowned for never being without a camera and photographed the daily life of local towns and villages; he was fascinated by the communities and countryside surrounding Eyemouth. Fred had an ability to listen to, understand and appreciate people and over the years made many strong, long-lasting friendships, all of which he valued greatly.

Travelling was another favourite pursuit including taking the family on holiday in a never-ending series of VW camper vans and touring at home and abroad with Ann.

In 1993 Fred completed a charity bike ride in Israel in aid of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society’s Nazareth Hospital; despite being one of the oldest participants Fred gave it his unwavering enthusiasm and presented many slide shows on his return.

Lifelong learning was a feature of Fred’s life and after retiring in 1992 he did not get less busy. He was an enthusiastic participant in numerous activities and societies which included Gaelic classes, Scottish country dancing, the local Probus Club, the Eyemouth Fisherman’s Choir and, from parishioner to elder, an active member of Eyemouth Parish Church.

Having been brought up in a farming environment, Fred was acutely aware of the seasons and always enjoyed gardening and working in his greenhouse.

Despite losing Ann in 2005, these interests and his youthful outlook on life, along with the many deep friendships he had built over the years, kept Fred inspired and fully engaged with the Eyemouth Community for the remainder of his life.

Fred is survived by his five daughters, one son and ten grandchildren.