Doctor found peace and tranquillity with trees

21:27, Oct 09 2012
Rob Henderson
Rob Henderson was highly principled and a man of great integrity.

There was a touch of home in a fellow Zimbabwean leading the moving service of farewell for Rob Henderson, who died at Hospice Southland last month.

The Rev Richard Johnson said his friendship with Dr Henderson was fortuitous.

His wife, a horticulturist, was advising Dr Henderson on the choice of trees when she noted his accent was like her husband's.

“She brought him home and he became a dear friend," he said.

Dr Henderson came to New Zealand from the then Rhodesia in 1978.

He took over a medical practice in the Western Southland township of Nightcaps where he is remembered still, with affection.


Mr Johnson came to Southland, from what is now Zimbabwe, years later, but he too settled with his family in the south, as vicar of All Saints in Invercargill.

Saying goodbye to a dearly loved friend caused him the grief everyone felt.

But Mr Johnson emphasised the hope at the heart of the Christian faith Dr Henderson had understood.

Dr Murray Allen, a neighbour at the Don St medical practice that Dr Henderson took over in 1996, said he'd known his friend from 10 years before that, meeting at an inter-hospital cricket match when he was on the Kew team and Dr Henderson was playing for Gore.

Their friendship was cemented over Dr Henderson's home brew in his kitchen.

Years later no-one could remember who won the match, but everyone recalled the aftermatch function.

It showed another side of the spare abstemious man who hadn't touched butter for 40 years and ran a half marathon last year to mark his 70th birthday.

He could be warm, funny and hospitable, a familiar figure in his ute, beloved black labrador, Angus, at his side, driving out to the cottage he'd built at Sunnyside, near Monowai, to tend his trees.

On Thursday mornings he ran his clinic at the Muruhiku marae.

Maori Anglican priest Peggy Peek and marae kaumatua Cyril Gilroy remember his offer, and the hesitation of people at first, “and by the end there was always a line of people here just waiting for Dr Rob who never let them down".

Neat, disciplined, meticulous he used his time well, to the benefit of many.

Born on April 5, 1941, he grew up in Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - and graduated from the University of Cape Town.

He did post-graduate study in Edinburgh, passing the first part examination of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh then working in Johannesburg university hospitals for five years.

Coming to New Zealand in 1978 he went directly to a practice at Nightcaps, developing a love for Western Southland, where, inspired by the arboretum at Otautau, he nurtured his own lifelong love of trees and developed his own farm forest.

After Nightcaps he went to Gore and 16 years later to Invercargill.

He was to work in rural and urban medical practice for 34 years, years during which he never stopped studying.

In addition to the six years he spent in medical training at the University of Cape Town, he spent 14 years doing studies at the Universities of Edinburgh, Otago and Massey.

These studies included a masters in general practice, with credit; a post-graduate diploma in healthcare management and a master of management, with distinction.

He also did various other papers including a paper on medical ethics and healthcare law.

Highly principled he was a man of great integrity who was vindicated in a stand he took against drugs in a workplace.

Quiet, even self-effacing, he was astonishingly well read with a breadth of interests from philosophy, to physics to farming.

He convened a medical peer group and Dr Allen said apart from keeping the group together and keeping its records meticulously, he brought something useful and positive to every discussion.

His practice manager, Maureen Calvert, did as he had asked, singing the hymn How Great Thou Art before Piper Ashley Bell led the procession from the church.

She also had the last word.

“Dr Rob was a good man, a great boss, a scholar - and a gentleman."

He leaves four adult children - Richard (Wellington), Stuart (Perth, Australia), Patricia (Auckland), Duncan (Kapiti Coast), and four grandchildren, Rewa, Leah, Will and George.

And he leaves 283 hectares planted in trees, the second largest privately owned forest farm in the south, the source of his peace and tranquillity, his commitment to the future of the south where he had chosen to make his home.

The Southland Times