Dr John Wilson

One of those interviewed in Whitehead had been a medical practitioner. Dr John Wilson moved to Whitehead in the late 1950s and has lived in the same house in Cable Road for over fifty years. The son of a caulker, he was born in Parkmount Street in Belfast and moved to Bangor at six months old.

When he was a year old he moved to a small farm at Portadown that had been left to his mother, living there until he went to Queen’s University to study medicine. After graduating from Queen’s, he spent his house officer year at the Moyle Hospital in Larne, followed by another year in the children’s hospital in Belfast. An opportunity arose for him to spend a year in Liverpool before going on to the famous children’s hospital in Great Ormond Street in London.

However, one day, as he was finishing up in Belfast, he was visited by Dr Joseph Dundee and Dr William Calwell. They wanted to combine their practices in Whitehead and wanted John to join them in the new practice. He had been recommended to them by Hugh Wilson, a surgeon in the Moyle Hospital. They proposed taking him on as an assistant on a salary of £750. He told them he would need a car, but they instructed him to buy his own car and he would receive an allowance towards his petrol.

John Wilson recalls his first meeting with Drs Calwell and Dundee:

They said, “Why are you going to England?” I said, “I am going to England because I have a lot of knowledge, but I have no practical ability by my hands.” … They both laughed and they both said to me, “Give us six months in general practice and we will teach you more practical ability than you’ll ever learn in England in the next seven or eight years!”

John began work in Whitehead on 10 February 1958 and has never regretted his move there. In 1959 he became a partner with Drs Dundee and Calwell, originally under a one-seventh partnership arrangement, eventually becoming an equal partner. He acknowledges that in the late 1950s it was very difficult to go into general practice. In 1958, for example, only two people in Northern Ireland got into general practice. The three doctors covered an area encompassing Whitehead, Ballycarry, Islandmagee, Magheramourne, Glynn and Eden. They also had about 30 patients in Larne. The practice started with 5,800 patients between the three doctors, but within two years this had risen to 7,000. A fourth doctor, Dr Ronnie Esler from Larne, would later join the practice.

In the early days of the practice there were several surgeries in Whitehead. Dr Dundee, for instance, continued to operate a surgery from his home on the Promenade. John also had his own surgery in his home in Cable Road to deal with patients at weekends where he could be assisted by his wife who was a trained sister at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. At one point home calls were transferred through to his house and his wife, who was a native of Whitehead, answered them. One day a call came through and when he answered he was told, “It’s not really you I want to talk to it’s your wife.” The next time he saw this patient he asked why this was so and was told, “You get better information from her and you can understand it better.” In 1969 a new health centre was opened on Edward Road.

By the time that John retired in 1996, when he had reached the age of 65, he had witnessed many changes in the medical profession. For example, when John started out in general practice home deliveries accounted for about 20 per cent of births, though this was phased out over the next decade. He feels that doctors used to have more time with each patient. He emphasised the importance of knowing each family’s medical history as this assisted with the diagnosis of particular health issues. According to John, ‘You were looking after the patient as a member of a family, and that, to me, meant you looked after the family in totum.’

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: