Obituaries: Graham Meikle, Rhodesian surgeon who made a life in Scotland

Graham Meikle MB.ChB. FRCS Ed. FRCS London, surgeon. Born: 16 May, 1933, in Salisbury, Rhodesia. Died: 13 April 2021 in Crichton, Midlothian, aged 87

Graham Meikle was a lover of the Great Outdoors

When Graham Meikle carried out his first appendectomy it was in less than ideal circumstances – aboard a mail ship in the south Atlantic two days out of Cape Town. He had just decided working in Africa wasn’t for him and was sailing back to Britain when the call went up for a doctor. The young Edinburgh University medicine graduate swiftly obliged, diagnosed acute appendicitis and advised the captain to return to shore immediately. The master refused. The mail could not be late.

Meikle was left with little option. He had observed the procedure but never actually performed it himself. However, he held his nerve and, with the assistance of a fellow passenger with some anaesthetics experience, plus the ship’s first aid kit, he operated successfully – despite the patient starting to come round during surgery.

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It was a mark of the man’s practical and pragmatic nature, traits that served him well during a subsequent distinguished career as an old school general surgeon in Leith and East Lothian. He was only ten when, influenced by the doctors in his family – maternal grandfather James and uncles Jack and Jim – he decided surgery was where his future lay. A circuitous route followed, from Rhodesia to Scotland, Rhodesia and back again before he succeeded in his metier.

Born in Salisbury, Rhodesia, he was the son of Cyril Meikle, who farmed a vast ranch inherited after his forebears emigrated from Lanarkshire, and his wife Nancy. The couple had two boys but tragedy struck when their father died after having his tonsils out when younger son Graham was a baby. The ranch was sold and the estate put into trust for the boys’ education and upbringing. Their widowed mother returned to Britain and, after a spell in Liverpool, moved to London’s Kensington.

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The boys went to Huyton Hill Preparatory School near Liverpool and were evacuated to the Lake District after the outbreak of the Second World War. Unable to return to London during the bombing, their mother took them back to Rhodesia where they stayed with their uncle Jim, a government medical officer, and his family outside Marandellas. Jim, the only doctor for 40 miles, ran regular clinics in rural villages and treated leprosy patients. Graham recalled going out with him around the practice, clinging to the seat of the car while his uncle hared round the area at high speed. The youngster went to Ruzawi Prep School, where he enjoyed sports, riding and camping in the bush and began a lifelong love of using tools and woodworking, before attending the prestigious Hilton College in South Africa.

His uncle Jack, a former missionary and doctor in Liverpool, then encouraged his application to read medicine at Edinburgh and so began some of the happiest days of his life, sailing on the Forth, fencing competitively for the university and zipping around the city in his Morgan. Ever grateful to the father he had never known for the trust funds for his education, he also worked hard at his studies.

After graduating in 1957 he became a house officer at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before returning to Rhodesia, where he worked for six months in a bush hospital and in a private GP’s surgery in Salisbury for a further six months. By now he knew he would not continue to work in Africa and took the mail ship back to Liverpool. Back in Britain he returned to Scotland and spent a year at Edinburgh University, teaching and supervising anatomy dissections. He did both his medical and surgical house posts at Edinburgh Royal but it was the surgical training he loved and by the time he became a senior registrar he was also working at Leith hospital.

In 1962 he met his future wife Fiona at a wedding and they had a whirlwind romance – engaged within six weeks, wed within six months. They had a son and daughter and moved to Pittsburgh when he did a year’s research work. Returning to his medical career, he gained his first consultancy post in 1972, sharing his time between Roodlands, Leith and the Eastern General hospitals. By this time their third child had arrived and moving to a large, old Victorian house in Eskbank gave him an opportunity to practise his DIY. He attended St John’s and King’s Park Church, becoming an elder.

He later became a full-time consultant at Roodlands, where he spent 19 years. The hospital had an acute surgery department and a busy A&E team and he could find himself in demand at all times of the day or night. He was also a respected mentor, seeing the training of junior doctors as a priority – and placements under him were very popular.

In 1991 he took early retirement following the closure of Roodlands A&E and the ongoing centralisation of acute services. But he continued as duty doctor at Kelso Races and horse driving events, most notably having a close shave with the Duke of Edinburgh at Floors Castle when the Duke’s carriage had an accident at the water hazard. Retirement afforded him more time for travelling and he made numerous trekking trips to Nepal, visited Patagonia, Russia, Morocco and Ethiopia and fulfilled his passion for polar exploration with a visit to Antarctica. New Zealand and Australia were favourite destinations and he and Fiona camped around NZ five years ago. Among his other interests were history – he was Pencaitland History Society chair for many years – cars and sewing, his nimble fingers producing patchwork quilts and panels on the Great Scottish and Scottish Diaspora tapestries.

The couple moved to Crichton near Pathhead in 1999, where he loved his role as church beadle and was property convenor for the Tyne Valley Parish. He had always been sustained by a deep faith and, over the last year, kept on the wall a lockdown saying from St David that exemplified that and his approach to life: Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.

He is survived by his wife Fiona, his children Kirsty, Stewart and Annabel, and six grandchildren.

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