DR WILLIAM Ramsay, who served as a GP in Portadown for 31 years, was one of the old school - totally dedicated in the days when doctors were on call virtually 24 hours a day and knew all their patients and their individual needs.
A quietly-spoken, gentle, yet determined and courageous man, he made his mark not only within the field of medicine, but also as an enthusiastic local politician who respected all viewpoints in the cut-and-thrust of Craigavon Borough Council, was a devout Christian as a Presbyterian elder, worked for the community at large through organisations like the Rotary movement, and was a devoted husband and family man.
Everything he did was with a quiet dignity, and as an Alliance politician, he held his cross-community views with conviction, but didn’t make a single enemy - political or otherwise - during the 80 productive years of his life.
Brought up in a farm near Ballymoney in North Antrim, he was the older son of William and Mary Ramsay and was pre-deceased by brother John eight years ago. Dr Ramsay died in Craigavon Area Hospital on Wednesday of last week after a short illness and is survived by his wife Lilian, daughter Anne-Marie (Portadown), a business adviser with Invest Northern Ireland, and son Michael (Leeds), an IT consultant. He also leaves son-in-law Paul, daughter-in-law Jill and grandchildren Megan, Christopher, Jack and Adam.
The young William Ramsay began his education at his local Kirkhills Primary School in North Antrim, after which he was a during-the-week boarder at Coleraine Inst, He then studied medicine at Queen’s University (1947-53) followed by his Houseman’s Year at the City Hospital in Belfast. He embarked upon quite a eclectic early career - a year in St Luke’s Hospital, Bradford, then back in Northern Ireland in the fractures unit at the Royal Victoria in Belfast, GP in Lurgan in Dr Henderson’s surgery, and then he took to the sea as Assistant Ship Surgeon with P&O Lines.
Voyages took him three times to Australia and to the Mediterranean, and when he returned to terra firma, he gained a Diploma in Public Health in Gloucestershire and served a year as a GP in Coalisland before settling in Portadown. In 1960, he joined the town’s legendary Hadden practice - then centred in Thomas Street - and the following year, he and Mrs Ramsay were married in her ‘home’ church of First Ballymena. They lived at Seagoe Road for 40 years before moving to Ballyhannon Road 10 years ago - they would have celebrated their 50th anniversary in September this year.
As well as being a compassionate, expert GP, Dr Ramsay served the profession in other ways. He was secretary of the NI Branch of the British Medical Association as well as being Provost of the College of General Practitioners. And in the context of these positions, he invited the controversial Conservative politician Enoch Powell to speak, and on his travels into the Republic, met President Mary Robinson.
Dr Ramsay retired in 1991, leaving a welter of grateful patients and friends who will always remember his dedication far above the call of duty. By then, his partners were Drs John Adams and Maureen Moore.
Despite his busy case load, Dr Ramsay wanted to do his bit to promote the middle political ground within the context of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’. He was a founder member of the Craigavon Alliance branch - and later the Upper Bann Association - of which Mrs Ramsay was also a member.
He was one of four Alliance members elected to the first Craigavon Borough Council in 1973, the others being Sean Hagan, Brian English and Dr Donnell Deeny. And while he never deviated from his strongly-held views, he always listened to the views of others within a council where the police were called from time to time to cool things down and remove the occasional councillor.
Sean Hagan, also a personal friend, commented, “I have never met a person of greater integrity than William Ramsay. He exercised the same enthusiasm, care and compassion on helping his constituents as he did on his patients. He was so keen on political reform and Craigavon council was lucky to have him.”
Dr Ramsay served four consecutive four-year terms with the council as a Portadown Ward representative, but - as the middle ground crumbled - missed out in the 1989 elections and never returned. He also contested Stormont and Westminster elections in Upper Bann on behalf of the party.
Outside work and politics, he served the Portadown community in many other ways, not least as a hard-working member of the town’s Rotary Club - so much so that he was appointed President in its Golden Jubilee Year in 1986-87 and later received the top Rotary honour of a Paul Harris Award. Mrs Ramsay was given the same accolade through the Inner Wheel, the female equivalent of Rotary, before women were permitted into the ranks. And when he retired from Rotary, Dr Ramsay joined the senior organisation the Probus Club where his experience and wisdom were extremely valuable.
Long-serving Rotarian Bertie Martin paid tribute at Monday’s weekly meeting of Rotary. He said, “William Ramsay was a fine doctor and a true gentleman. He did tremendous work for charity, as did Lilian - they were great servants of Portadown in many, many ways.”
The Ramsays were also faithful members of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church where he was appointed an elder in 1967, during the ministry of the Rev William Magee, and his contribution there included work as unofficial “gardener”, cutting the grass area at the back of the church for many years.
When he retired as a GP, Dr Ramsay was able to devote more time to his hobbies of gardening, history and to his beloved extended family. He was a member of the Craigavon Museum Committee, diligently researched his family tree, and was a member of the County Museum and of Craigavon Historical Society. He adored his family, and he and Mrs Ramsay supported each other in everything they did, including her valuable and selfless work as a driving force behind the work of Christian Aid.
Armagh Road Presbyterian Church was well-filled for Friday’s funeral service, attended by representatives of the many organisations he served, and by his grateful ex-patients. The mourners included David Ford, Leader of the NI Alliance Party and out-going Minister of Justice.
The minister of Armagh Road, the Rev Christina Bradley, paid a glowing tribute to him, and a private burial followed at the Ramsay family plot at Roseyards Presbyterian Church, near Ballymoney.