University of Otago Otago Medical School Alumni Association

Obituary - Dr Richard Campbell Begg

Dr Richard Campbell Begg MBBCH, DOBST.RCOG, DPH, DIH passed away in Nelson Hospice on 24 July 2009 after a short illness.

Dr Begg (the son of Dr Robert Campbell Begg, the first urologist in New Zealand) was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1924. In 1937, he immigrated with his four siblings and parents to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dr Richard Campell Begg

Dr Richard Campbell Begg

After matriculating in 1939, Richard worked as a junior clerk at the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg. Two years later he sailed to England to train (for six months) at the British Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. He served on various ships in World War II including the HMS Norfolk, HMS Kent and HMS Orwell in the home fleet based at Scapa Flow. Operations included escorting merchant ships across the Arctic Circle to Russia, escorting American and merchant ships to northern Africa and escorting the Renown, which was bringing the then British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, home after meeting allied leaders in Canada.

By the time the war finished, Richard was a lieutenant serving on the destroyer HMS Paladin (East Indies Fleet, based at Trincomalee in Ceylon). Although the Paladin returned to the United Kingdom in October 1945, Richard remained in Ceylon as a watch-keeping officer in the destroyer depot ship HMS Woolwich. He returned to South Africa in May 1946. His application to resign his commission was finally accepted in October that year.

Richard studied medicine in Johannesburg but upon qualifying in 1952, returned to New Zealand. His medical career was varied, beginning with a stint as a house surgeon in Dunedin and Balclutha hospitals and several years as a general practitioner (in New Zealand and overseas) before moving into the area of public health. After obtaining a Diploma of Public Health at Otago University in 1962, Richard took on the first of several posts as Medical Officer of Health (MOH) - in Gisborne. In association with local iwi and other colleagues, he instigated a series of medico-social surveys into Māori health and environment. As a result, committees aimed at improving Māori health, were set up.

Over the next 14 years, Richard worked as MOH in the Hutt district and Dunedin (where he also lectured in social medicine at the University of Otago), as medical officer for the New Zealand Forest Products plant Kinleith (near Tokoroa), superintendent of Dunstan Hospital, Clyde and medical officer at Cherry Farm Hospital (psychiatric).

In 1976, he joined the then Department of Health as Deputy Director of Public Health. Two years later he was appointed head of the Department’s new Division of Health Promotion. He retired in 1984.

Richard’s priorities in public health were the promotion of good health and prevention of illness and disability. One of his biggest contributions was in the area of deafness. As well as raising public and professional awareness about deaf prevention and hearing conservation, Richard helped establish services, which would identify and advise on children with hearing problems.

Retirement enabled Richard to indulge in other interests, in particular history and travel, with his wife Margaret.

In the mid-1990s, Richard began recording the stories of World War II veterans - including cartoonist the late Sydney Scales and Professor John Mackie (surveying), both of Dunedin - at the request of Peter Liddle, the then Director of the Second World War Centre in Leeds, England. The recordings led to the creation of For Five Shillings a Day, collection of eyewitness accounts by 54 veterans of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. Harper Collins first published the book - edited by Richard and Peter Liddle - in Great Britain in 2000. The original tapes are with the Second World War Experience Centre in Leeds and copies have been lodged with the relevant service museums in New Zealand.

Richard is survived by his wife Margaret, five children and nine grandchildren.

by John Begg
(Richard Campbell Begg's son)