Obituary: Richard Philip OBE

BORN: 30 January, 1942, in Weymouth. Died: 14 October, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 72.

Globe-trotting veterinary expert who provided inspiration to others. Picture: Contributed
Globe-trotting veterinary expert who provided inspiration to others. Picture: Contributed

The exploits of an adventurous uncle who explored the Amazon more than a century ago provided the inspiration for Richard Philip’s career as a globe-trotting vet.

Freddy Dearden-Walker had been a doctor on a 1912 expedition to map the tributaries of the great South American river and his collection of specimens, particularly arachnids, and tales of adventure were the catalyst for his young nephew’s love of science.

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They also sparked a desire to visit far-off destinations and Philip’s subsequent work and travels were no less exotic than those of the man who had fired his boyhood imagination: his career took him from Scotland to New Zealand, Fiji, Jordan and Bhutan and saw him awarded an OBE for his services to veterinary science overseas.

Meanwhile, he also indulged in some expeditions of his own – exploring archaeological sites in the Jordanian desert, seeking out Stone Age artefacts and Saudi Arabian rock drawings – as well as enjoying the adrenalin hit of activities including flying, riding and sailing.

And though he had lived in many countries over his 30 years abroad, he always regarded Edinburgh as his home, working latterly as a guide at the National Museum of Scotland and the National Trust’s magnificent Newhailes property in Musselburgh.

Born in Weymouth, the son of a school master and music teacher, he grew up in Cornwall and Devon and was educated at Dumpton Prep school in Dorset and Devon’s Kelly College. In 1961 he embarked on his studies in veterinary medicine at Glasgow University, where he joined the University Air Squadron and the Cecilian musical theatre society, through which he met his wife Marie, whom he married in 1965.

After graduating in 1967 he decided he needed to consolidate his veterinary knowledge before he could become a tropical vet, and so he joined a mixed practice in Wallingford, then in Berkshire, and close to Winterbrook House, home of the writer Agatha Christie. There he specialised in horses and also visited the novelist and playwright to treat her dog.

Then, with a couple of years of experience under his belt, he headed to the North Island of New Zealand, taking his wife and their newborn son on the six-week sea voyage, to join a farm animal practice in Te Awamutu, in Waikato. During his time there, he rode and kept two horses, flew at the local airfield, sailed, skied – a sport he had enjoyed in Scotland – and was part of the Mount Ruapehu Ski Patrol.

In 1972 he moved to Fiji, as a divisional veterinary officer, where he helped set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the capital Suva. He bought his first boat, the Stella Maris, and spent his weekends sailing and flying.

He was working for the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) and the British Government sponsored his return to Scotland in 1974 to study for a Masters degree in Tropical Veterinary Science at Edinburgh University. He continued to work for the ODA, now the Department for International Development, until 1990.

In 1975, when he was posted to Jordan, his wife suggested they travel there overland. By now, they had three children, aged seven, three and one, who, along with all their possessions, were packed into a Land Rover for a six-week adventure, traversing Western Europe, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Syria, camping and living on baked beans and tins of Baxters mince.

He worked as a veterinary investigation officer in Jordan until 1981, setting up laboratories and training staff in small animal surgery.

He also became a keen desert explorer, setting off with his family, armed with tents, supplies, maps and compass, to drive off-road to find Umayyad castles and archaeological sites. He studied archaeology at the American Centre of Oriental Research in Jordan and led his family on searches for Stone Age hand-axes, pottery and Roman glass.

Philip went on to head an expedition into Saudi Arabia to the Kilwa monastery to see the ancient rock drawings.

He then spent some time at the Animal Disease Research Institute at Pirbright in the UK, which included six weeks as a consultant on disease monitoring at a research centre in Aleppo in Syria.

Another ODA project followed in Bogor, in Java, Indonesia, where he was a member of the St Andrew Society Scottish dance team, before he was posted to North Yemen in 1985 as a senior veterinary investigation officer.

Once again he drove from Edinburgh, this time to begin work in Sana’a, where he established disease investigation and control programmes – a job that involved chasing camels through the desert to catch and vaccinate the beasts. He was still a hands-on vet and, thanks to his command of Arabic, local farmers would simply turn up at the door with their animals knowing he would be able to converse with them. He once performed an emergency caesarean operation on the front porch.

In the early 1990s he worked on overseas monitoring operations with Ross Breeders of Midlothian, developing poultry disease monitoring systems world-wide, before becoming team leader/veterinary adviser on an EU project to improve veterinary services in Bhutan.

He oversaw everything from setting up vaccine production, diagnostic laboratories and legislation for slaughter houses to training local vets and establishing procedures for epidemiology and disease control.

Philip worked there until 1999, the year he was awarded an OBE for services to Veterinary Science Overseas and became a director of the Jordan Society for the Protection of Animals. Two years later he was involved back home in the programme to combat foot and mouth disease in Cumbria, which included disease monitoring and surveillance, handling of outbreaks, including slaughter, disposal of carcasses and disinfection plus epidemiological investigations.

He was also a trustee and non-executive director of the Brook Hospital for Animals, involved in animal disease control and welfare issues and operations in India, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan. His wide range of other interests in retirement included the Rotary Club and membership of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.

A man with a mischievous sene of humour as well as a strong sense of moral obligation, his talents inspired not only countless others in countries around the world but his own children – his daughter is a vet and one son’s life is spent working in developing countries.

He is survived by his wife Marie, children Alasdair, Iain and Anna, five grandchildren and his brothers David and Michael.