Saturday morning marked the end of an era at Portadown Health Centre, as Dr Colin Mathews retired after 31 years of care.
Almost 400 grateful patients and friends of the town’s Orchard Practice travelled to the health centre to thank Dr Colin for his care over the years - testament to how much he has been valued as a doctor there.
The Mathews family – Dr Colin’s father, Dr James, before him – have treated the people of Portadown since the late 1940s, when James set up his practice in Edenderry’s Victoria House.
The function was in the main hall of the superb Portadown Health Centre, and Colin recalled the beginnings of the Mathews local history. The general public called ad hoc with his dad and decided they wanted to join the new doctor – with new wife Peggy at his side. James had previously worked with Dr George Dougan.
Later, they moved to a surgery at Killicomaine where the new estate up the road was taking shape. In the 1970s they moved to the rather restricted and unsuitable clinic at Thomas Street which was replaced a few years ago by what is regarded as one of the best in Northern Ireland.
Colin’s brother Kenneth also became a GP – he practices in Norwich and he, too, retired this week.
Mixing among the hundreds of patients on Saturday morning was the next generation of Portadown-bred Mathews GPs – Colin’s son Kyle, who is entering his final year of study. Kyle, though, won’t be practising in Portadown. His studies took him to Edinburgh and he plans to join a surgery in either the Scottish capital or in the Borders Region.
He will take a part of the Portadown Mathews medical history with him – the Orchard Practice ‘Apple’ logo. The logo’s origins are lost in the mists of time, but are believed to be the result of Dr James’ inventive mind, no doubt linked to County Armagh’s apple history.
The event was tinged with sadness, as Colin recalled his career in ‘The Orchard’. He and his late wife, and great friend Trish – also a talented GP – had set up The Orchard Practice, along with Dr Paul McConnell.
Trish, who practised under her maiden name of Dr Trish Carson, sadly died four years ago – a real blow to the family and community. And a few weeks ago, Colin’s mother, Mrs Peggy Mathews, passed away, creating significant changes in the Mathews family, Dr James having died in 2008.
Colin Mathews has managed to combine new-old school medicine in his 31-year caring career – one of those modest doctors who teaches and enriches the lives of patients and younger colleagues.
“When my father started out, the main thrust was treating illnesses in young people and children,” he said. “He was so dedicated to that branch of medicine – as were most GPs of his era.”
But James Mathews and his generation of medics were so successful that more and more people survived until a grand old age. This was reflected on Saturday morning, with a significant proportion pushing into the 80s – even 90s – age range.
Emotional ‘thank you’ greetings were the order of the day, with cards and generous donations of over £1,500 to three charities that Colin – and Trish – supported. The money will be divided between the Sassoon Heart Foundation, Bahamas, where Colin worked for a year early in his career; Marie Curie Nursing and Cancer Focus (NI).
His worth to Portadown’s well-being was underlined by Orchard Practice manager Christina Breen and by Dr Claire Williamson, both of whom praised his true professionalism and his deep care and concern for the town in general.
Colin replied that many people at the function had joined the practice over 60 years ago during its Edenderry-Killicomaine days, and had seen so many changes in diagnosis and care. He added it was a two-way sense of caring - he had really appreciated the love and concern of his patients when his wife had passed away four years ago. “I will always cherish the help you gave me,” he said.
Although Dr Colin Mathews has given up surgery, he will remain on a part-time basis in an administrative capacity, and he will continue his weekly sex health clinics in Newry.
He is taking a welcome break – as a tennis fanatic he will be glued to the TV screen over the Wimbledon fortnight. He was brought up literally over the fence from Edenderry Tennis Courts and is a founder member of Portadown Tennis Club at Eden Villa Park.
Colin has been researching the Mathews medical dynasty over five generations. There have been no fewer than 50 GPs in the extended family over that period. There is a branch is Sheffield which – like the Portadown ‘division’ – was spawned by the Mathews North Antrim ‘roots’.
Finally, Dr Mathews thanks many people who helped make Saturday morning’s event such a success - like Chapmans (Farmfresh) for their generous provision of scones and tray bakes; the Musicians - Joe Cullen Clarinet Quintet (South Ulster Community Band) and Dolores McConville Violin Quartet (SELB).
The organisation of the event was by practice manager Christina Breen and by the reception and nursing staff of Orchard Practice.