Obituary: Herbert John Gold

Herbert John Gold, General Practitioner. Born:  13 October 1935, in Inveresk. Died:  17 April 2016, in Edinburgh, aged 80.

Dr Herbert John Gold, leading GP who learned early the importance of preventing disease. Picture: contributing

Dr Herbert Gold was a leading General Practitioner in Edinburgh until his retirement in 1996. He was born in 1935 and was introduced to medicine at an early age as he grew up in his parents’ holistic nursing home in Inveresk with his siblings, Andrew, Erika and Douglas. He learned early the importance of preventing as well as treating disease. He was educated at Musselburgh Grammar School, St Christopher’s School in Letchworth, and the Edinburgh Royal High School on Calton Hill.

Herbert gained his MB ChB degree from Edinburgh University Medical School in 1961 and DObst RCOG in 1964. He acquired a broad experience in medicine, surgery, obstetrics, anaesthetics and accident and emergency medicine in hospitals in Edinburgh and England. Then in 1964 he became the General Medical Officer at Lau King How Hospital in Sibu, Borneo, where he worked with a Chinese Surgeon (who had trained in Edinburgh), an Indian Physician and a Greek Obstetrician. Diseases were similar to those in the UK with the addition of malaria, dysentery, tetanus, obstetric complications and trauma from the logging industry. He lived in a house on stilts, the sun provided hot water, and the fridge provided some cooling. His “amah” served him Western fish fingers and frozen peas until he asked her to cook him local food, vastly improving the quality and reducing the bill! He concluded that the local people needed help with agriculture and hygiene far more than Western medicine. 

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Herbert then travelled to Australia and worked his way from Perth (Perth Royal Infirmary), via Kalgoorlie (General Practice), to Melbourne (Repatriation Hospital, Heidelberg), before returning to the UK via the USA.

In 1966 Herbert joined the Bruntsfield Medical Practice in Edinburgh, where he formed an immediate warm bond with the Partners and was soon offered a Partnership. His popularity with new patients contributed in no small measure to the growth of what was recognised to be a gold standard partnership. With increasing numbers and a rapidly expanding multidisciplinary team, larger premises became essential and Herbert, along with the Senior Partner, was very actively involved in protracted negotiations with the Health Board in their purchase of a market garden business site nearby. The outcome was the establishment of the new Health Centre in Forbes Road, and Herbert became the Senior Partner in the seven-doctor partnership.

Throughout his 19 years as Senior Partner, he was a friendly, compassionate and conscientious doctor to his patients and an ever-available support to his medical team. He summarised his view on medical practice in the Yearbook for the 50th Anniversary of his Class Graduation: “So what have I learned after 30 years of General Practice?  The problem is how to motivate people to do what is best for them so they appreciate the great gift of good health. It is not the mere absence of disease. We are what we do: what we eat, drink, smoke and think. If we can get these things right in the early years the chances are that we can largely outlive our inheritance and the dependency phase of our lives can be kept to a minimum.” The lessons of Inveresk had stayed with him and he had a view of the goal of medical care very much in keeping with modern medical thought. 

Herbert had 20 years of active retirement.  He enjoyed choral music as a bass singer, but when one of his Partners, Elizabeth McCall-Smith, with her husband and friends, formed the Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) to give “performance opportunities to the musically challenged”, she presented Herbert with a trombone, a teacher, some music and the announcement that he would fill the trombone gap in the RTO in one year! Herbert accepted the challenge, made the grade, and enjoyed the musical and social opportunities for the next 16 years, including regular appearances on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and taking part in concerts in London, Utrecht and New York.

Herbert also made major contributions to the locality in which he lived, becoming Chairman of the Waverley Park Feuars Committee for fourteen years. Many improvements to the amenity of the area were made under his guidance. He maintained a medical interest through work as an Examiner for the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association. He was a skilled craftsman whose work easily reached professional standards, to the advantage of his family, neighbours and friends.   He enjoyed extensive travels through five continents, regularly played squash and racketball, was a keen cyclist and swimmer, and a supporter of the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church.

Above all Herbert was a dedicated and devoted family man. He met Rosemary Bruton early in 1969 and they married later that year. Rosemary, their two children Juliet and Lawrence, son-in-law Sean, daughter-in-law Samantha, and grandchildren Olivia, Sophia and Alanna were very much a part of his life.

The love of his family and the esteem of his friends, colleagues and patients were reflected in there being standing room only at his funeral at Mortonhall on 3 May.