Chance to pay tribute to family GP

People will have the opportunity to pay their respects to former Berwick GP Dr James Mitchell, who died last month aged 97, at a public service.

By Dr Bruce Lowe
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 6:18 pm
Dr James Mitchell.

Dr James ‘Jimmy’ Mitchell was born in East Lothian, attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh for two years and, when his parents moved to Birgham Haugh farm on the Hirsel Estate near Coldstream, attended Kelso High School, where he excelled.

He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating on July 5, 1948, the same day as the advent of the National Health Service. He first worked as a locum in Gateshead where he recalls that in one of the doctor’s houses, the surgery contained three large Winchester bottles – one for coughs, one for stomachs and one for the “tonic”.

A small amount was put in a bottle, filled with water, and administered, with Jimmy saying: “That was my introduction to general practice.”

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Jimmy moved to Berwick in 1949 to join Drs Maclagan and Sprunt and married Margaret in 1950. At that time, Berwick Infirmary was run by the town’s doctors who admitted, investigated, treated and discharged patients.

Obstetrics was also a heavy responsibility of the local doctors, especially with Edinburgh and Newcastle two hours away from Castle Hills.

In 1950s Berwick, a typical working day would begin with a dawn sick parade at the KOSB barracks, a visit to see patients at the infirmary and then home visits before evening surgery, which often continued until 8pm, every last patient having been seen.

When he became senior partner at the Well Close Square practice, patient numbers and GP colleagues began to increase.

Following full-time retirement in 1985, Jimmy worked in the Day Hospital at Berwick Infirmary and continued his connection with the forces, doing army recruitment medicals.

He was Divisional Surgeon of the Berwick and District St John’s Ambulance for 36 years and was honoured with a Serving Officer of the Order of St John.

After the death of Margaret in 1995, he married Marion.

Jimmy had many interests outside of medicine. His lifelong love of fishing led to him becoming president of the Berwick and District Angling Association for over 30 years and chairman of the Ellem Fishing Club (the oldest existing trout fishing club in the world).

He has written a history of the club and initiated the club exhibition at Paxton House. He was a Tweed Commissioner and, for 56 years, a valued member of the Berwick Salmon Club.

A lifelong rugby enthusiast, he was a founding member of Berwick Rugby Club when it reformed in 1968.

He loved his house and garden, first at St Leonards in Castle Terrace and then in Paxton, where he was a generous host.

Jimmy was independent of mind with strong views and in great demand as an after dinner speaker, often reminiscing about his early days in medicine.

In his professional life, he was a wise, supportive and trusted advisor to colleagues.

He leaves his wife Marion, daughter Shelagh and son Finlay, five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

A Thanksgiving Service in celebration of Jimmy’s life will take place on Saturday, March 26 at 11am in Hutton Kirk. All are welcome.