Lives of the fellows

Derek Gerard McCoy

b.30 March 1934 d.16 June 2009
MB BCh BAO Belf(1957) MRCPI(1963) MD NUI(1966) MRCP(1967) FRCPI(1977) FRCP(1988)

Derek McCoy was a medical missionary in Africa and county physician to Bantry General Hospital, Cork, Ireland. He was an innovator who advanced medicine in his area and greatly influenced the generations of young doctors he trained. He was born in Belfast, the son of William McCoy, an officer in the Royal Ulster Rifles, and Veronica McCoy, a housewife. He was educated at St Mary’s, Belfast, and graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in 1957. He held junior posts at Musgrave Park and Antrim hospitals, before spending a further two years at the Belfast City and Musgrave Park hospitals.

In 1959, having heard that the Franciscan missionaries were looking for a doctor in western Kenya, he travelled to Africa, accompanied by his wife Brigid and their 12-week old baby daughter Deidre. The journey included a three-week trek to Nyabondo in the middle of the African bush. For two and a half years he was the only doctor for hundreds of miles, providing medical care in all specialties. This experience equipped him with a wide range of skills and knowledge of medicine.

Returning to Ireland in 1962, he took up a post as a medical registrar at St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork. While there he played a key role in establishing the first renal dialysis unit for the area. In 1970 he was appointed as county physician to Bantry General Hospital. Though appointed as a physician, on occasions he acted as obstetrician, anaesthetist and paediatrician, something unthinkable today. His dedication knew no bounds, and he was permanently on call for 28 years. Despite these onerous responsibilities and the chronic financial difficulties of the Irish Health Service, he was a great moderniser and introduced many new services. He established the intensive care unit at Bantry General Hospital, personally fundraising for the monitoring equipment, and also developed an endoscopy service.

Derek McCoy was an accomplished teacher, both at the bedside and as a lecturer at University College Cork. His extremely broad knowledge and practical skills inspired many doctors now practising both in Ireland and abroad. When the oil tanker Betelgeuse disastrously exploded in Bantry Bay in 1979, he was the physician on duty, an event which affected him deeply.

He retired in 1999, but continued in locum posts for several years. Throughout his life he was concerned that health service managers would dilute the advocacy role of consultants, thereby compromising patient care.

In later years he obtained a pilots licence and was still flying up to two days before his death. He was commodore of the local sailing club and a voracious reader of history books. He was survived by his wife Brigid, his three sons (Eamon, Diarmuid and Bryan), four daughters (Deidre, Claire, Brid and Katherine) and 18 grandchildren.

Paul Darragh

[The Irish Times 8 August 2009 – accessed 11 October 2010]

(Volume XII, page web)

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