Doctor Mike Berry retired yesterday after being the Featherston Medical Centre’s lead doctor for 32 years. PHOTO/STAFF REPORTER

KAREN COLTMAN
karen.coltman@age.co.nz

Featherston’s Dr Berry retireed yesterday after serving the town for 32 years. It’s been some journey.

If Mike Berry’s trip to New Zealand from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa was long, the road to becoming a qualified doctor was even longer.

Before he got his medical qualification, he was turned down by the medical school many times.

He started out with a Bachelor of Science, then did an honours degree and was turned down again.

He started a master’s degree but gave up. After 12 years of study he was finally accepted into medical school.

Six years later he was a qualified doctor with a massive student debt.

Dr Berry decided to leave Cape Town, South Africa, because a far-right government was elected, and he no longer wanted to be under that regime, which he felt was a recipe for war.

The late Nelson Mandela was in prison at the time.

He knew New Zealand was a match in many ways for the things he liked about South Africa – sports and culture, barbecues and the outdoors.

He contacted the New Zealand government to see if doctors were needed. He was told he and his wife Elspeth [El] could settle here but only if he practised in a town where New Zealand doctors didn’t want to go.

He was offered Picton or Featherston. He chose Featherston because he thought Picton would be so busy in the summer he would not have any summer breaks.

He and El along with their 2-year-old boy, arrived and started working at what is now known as the Featherston Medical Centre, which he built in 1989.

Dr Fraser died, and Dr Robertson was looking to retire so Dr Berry took over and led the centre for 32 years.

Yesterday at age 70 he handed over the keys to fellow centre doctor, Harsha Dias who is building a new centre on Daniell Street.

“I didn’t want to go out in a box. I mean doctor Fraser dropped dead at work. I wanted to hand it over in good shape.”

Dr Berry agreed to talk to the Times-Age for one reason – to bang the drum for Featherston and its people. He also wants to see young doctors attracted to the town and the wider Wairarapa.

“The people are part of a great, positive and supportive community and I loved living here as did my parents and two children.

“The town has had a bad wrap at times and some sad times, but it always pulls together and has a big heart. People help each other out all the time.”

He has loved working in Featherston and is very grateful to his team at the medical centre. His retirement started at lunchtime yesterday.

But apparently his wife has been compiling a list for him to get on with today at their Masterton home – immediately.

But with his doctor’s hat on, in the context of the deaths in Samoa of children not vaccinated, he has a last word.

“Please get your children immunised.

“In medical science the greatest impact on health is vaccination.

“You have about a thousand times more chance of getting a nasty reaction to a virus if you don’t get immunised.”