Avro Shackleton XF710

Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland



PAGE 2:  Obituary: Dr Jim Lee




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Dr Jim Lee,

formerly of Armadale

THE DANCE in Smithton Village Hall, near Inverness, on the evening of Friday, 10th January, 1964, proved to be a good bit more exciting than the average country hop. Two hundred feet overhead, in the murk of that moonless winter night, two young men were wrestling with the controls of a burning Shackleton, striving for all they were worth to turn their aircraft away from the houses of Smithton and the increasingly built-up areas nearby. Seconds later they bellyflopped the giant bomber in to a field opposite the Smithton Hotel and, together with their crew, sprang out and ran for their lives as flames erupted everywhere. Shortly afterwards they joined the shocked crowd in the village hall and danced as only men can dance who have just escaped what had seemed like certain death.

Co-pilot on the ill-fated "routine" flight was Flight Lieutenant Jim Lee, born in Bray [map], County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1936, and who in later life made quite an impact, though usually a rather less dramatic one, on various communities throughout the North. Following primary schooling in Belfast, Jim was sent off to boarding school at King's Hospital in Dublin but left at the age of 15 to become an apprentice draughtsman in the great shipyard of Harland and Wolf in Belfast. The career that this could have offered did not satisfy him, and after studying in night school he gained an HNC in electrical engineering from Queen's University, Belfast, where he joined the university's air squadron and learned to fly.

Now flying was something that Jim really liked and in November, 1958, he joined the RAF as a flying officer. Given his aptitude for both intellectual and practical matters, he soon became a pilot instructor and served in that capacity on various bases, including Kinloss, where he was stationed when the Shackleton accident occurred, until he left the RAF in 1966. Then began another phase in Jim's exciting life. That year he joined the recently formed Loganair, flying Britten-Norman Islanders between Glasgow and the Hebrides with mail, passengers and newspapers. The following year he was transferred to Orkney where, with the legendary Captain Alan Whitfield, he was instrumental in establishing the inter-island passenger and air-ambulance services. But the rule-bound routine of domestic air services did not altogether suit Jim's temperament and in 1970 he found his contract terminated.

Undaunted, he diversified into yet another field and built the Torvhaug Inn on Kirkwall's Main Street, still a favourite watering hole for Orcadians and visitors. By then he had fallen for a very good reason to stay in Orkney, in the shape of Dr Rosemary Milne, formerly of Aberdeen and then a senior house officer in the Balfour Hospital. The two were married in April 1972 and, not to be outdone by his young bride, Jim decided that medicine was the real career for him and set out to become a doctor. But first there was the awkward question of qualifications - an HNC in electrical engineering would not gain anyone entry to medical school. Which brought Jim, as rather a mature student, to the College of Commerce in Aberdeen where, in the 1972-73 session, he gained four Highers at 'A', sufficient to gain entry to the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, from which he graduated in 1978 at the ripe old age of 42.

Then it was off with Rosie to the Caribbean for hospital posts in Trinidad and Bermuda before returning to Scotland as senior house officer at the Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie from 1980-81, followed by a year as a trainee GP in Fort Augustus.

From 1983-84 he worked in hospitals in South Africa, at Pietermaritzburg and Port Elizabeth, both in Kwa Zulu, one of the African "homelands" set up by the white government in the closing years of apartheid. In 1984 Jim hit the locum trail in the Highlands with stints at Gairloch, Durness and Tongue until the opportunity to settle down came in 1985 when, in September, Rosie was appointed GP to the Armadale practice in North Sutherland. Jim became a partner in the practice in 1987 and helped serve its widely scattered catchment until ill-health forced him to retire in 1997.

Ever-enthusiastic, he was responsible for the construction of the new Armadale surgery, opened by Robert Maclennan MP in 1996, and for the radiotelephone system which gave the Armadale and Tongue practices superior communications for the last few years before the sudden ascendancy of the mobile phone. A thoughtful practitioner who often reflected on his patients' ailments long after they had left his surgery, he was not averse to turning up at the sufferer's door at almost any hour bearing some medicine he had uncovered which might just do the trick. And often it did. He enjoyed home visits, particularly in the more distant parts of the straths, and, outside his vocation, was a most welcoming host. A visit to one of his parties could be unforgettable - provided you could remember being there!

Dr Jim's health began to deteriorate markedly in 2003 due to a progressive, non-malignant lung condition which led to increasing breathlessness and, towards the end, required regular oxygen treatment at home. Much to his chagrin, this curtailed his passion for walking the various dogs which he and Dr Rosemary owned but, despite increasing infirmity, he continued to enjoy an occasional pint with new friends. The couple moved to 6 Marycroft, Rafford, Forres, Moray, after Rosemary's retirement in April 2005.

The very lively and likeable, if occasionally irascible, Irishman passed away peacefully at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin on 20th May, just a week before his 70th birthday. He was laid to rest at Pluscarden Church on Thursday the 25th with a good gathering of friends, colleagues and patients from his former practice in attendance. Rosemary, of course, is still coming to terms with her loss but would welcome a call from any visitors from the North who happen to be in the vicinity.