Popular GP loved life to full

TIM DONOGHUE
Last updated 14:00 02/02/2013
Simon
THE GOOD DOCTOR: Long-serving Masterton GP and obstetrician Simon Prior was fascinated by the miracle of new life.

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Simon Prior: b Masterton, July 10, 1954; m Robyn Stewart, 2s, 1d; d January 12, 2013, aged 58.

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Simon Prior was an archetypical GP who specialised in obstetrics and paediatrics after being born into a Wairarapa medical dynasty.

The miracle of new life never left Dr Prior. He often told friends and colleagues at Masterton Medical Centre: "The day the magic of new life ends is the day I will retire."

Because of his interest in obstetrics, his Masterton practice remained forever young. He wanted to be the last GP obstetrician left standing in the country.

At the time of his death, he was well poised to achieve this ambition as he was one of about 30 New Zealand GPs still actively involved in delivering babies.

Before he was overwhelmed by his brief illness, for 58 years Dr Prior was an active, healthy person.

On the day he was admitted to Wellington Hospital last month, he proudly proclaimed he had never taken a sick day in his life.

He was the flagship member of a family boasting four generations of doctors.

His father, Owen Prior, was a Masterton-based doctor, as was his grandfather, Norman Prior.

Two of his three children, David and Sarah Prior, are also doctors and complete the fourth generation direct line of doctors for the Prior family.

The family has provided more than 100 years of continuous medical service to the same community.

Dr Simon Prior never reached retirement age. He was blown over by an unforseen cancer which ravaged his body in the last six weeks of his life.

The son of Helen and Owen Prior was brought up in a liberal home in Masterton's Cole St, where he developed lifelong traits such as a sense of humour, a sharp mind, generosity of spirit, love of music and sport and a hatred of prickly Onehunga turf weeds.

During summer, in his younger days, Dr Prior attacked and eradicated the weeds from his Masterton property using only a putty knife and wearing nothing more than a pair of speedos.

From his boyhood home, he and his friend, Craig Stevens, would cycle to Maxwell's Garage six days a week to catch the bus to Rathkeale College on the outskirts of Masterton.

At college, Dr Prior excelled as a gifted academic, sportsman and very capable guitar-playing musician before moving to Dunedin to study medicine at Otago University.

During university holidays, he worked as a porter at Masterton Hospital before returning as a house surgeon in 1977-78 and going on to set up a practice as a GP in Perry St.

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In Masterton, he delivered babies for 30 years and was many things to many people. He was a much-loved husband, father, son, friend, GP to thousands and general-practice obstetrician to thousands of others.

He was also a teacher, counsellor, bird fancier, keen cook and a lover of small, fluffy dogs.

He loved watching top-level cricket at Wellington's Basin Reserve and keeping an eye on major sporting events on television.

At dinner time around the family table there was often a debate about the top-10 greatest bands of all time. For Dr Prior, his top eight - The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Doors, The Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival - never changed.

There was also a constant procession of trainee interns, medical students and others through his home and surgery, all of whom he had quietly mentored over the years.

A reluctant computer user, he regularly worked late at night, typing up his hand-written patient notes. Some days he saw up to 40 people come through his surgery door.

His Salvador Dali sense of humour came to the fore during a trip to Spain. When wife Robyn, the daughter of a Marton pharmacist, entered a restaurant or a room, he would repeatedly leap to his feet and acclaim - "Bravo! My wife!"

Throughout his life he played in bands, including a boyhood band known as The Virgin Would and How's Your Father?, and sang in barbershop quartets, including one with his three children.

When his class of fifth-year Otago medical students split up in 1975, the barbershop quartet of which he was a member performed at the Southern Cross Hotel farewell dinner.

The group chose two songs for the big haere ra dinner that were just a little naughty. They performed the outrageously funny and down-to-earth "mud, glorious mud" Hippopotamus Song and Life Presents a Dismal Picture. The latter song is a medical-themed parody on life's fickle nature sung to the tune of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.

At the funeral service at Rathkeale College in Masterton, a member of this 1975 quartet, Poleon Yee from Wellington, sang a final verse for his old medical- student friend.

Dr Prior, a man who retained his sense of humour to the last, would have loved the fact there was a full house of about 800 mourners on hand to enjoy the music and humorous stories at his farewell.

He was a man able to make light of the gravity of his own illness. In a final poignant Christmas message to friends and family written on December 22, this humane man wrote: "I'm good on the meaning of life now."

Sources: Prior family, Craig Stevens, Tim Baily Gibson, Ian Pike and Poleon Yee.

- The Dominion Post

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