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Obituary: Professor James McDougall Graham Harley CBE

Professor James McDougall Graham Harley CBE was a member of this Council for twelve years between 1978 and 1993.

He passed away peacefully at the age of 86, some 27 days ago in Belfast.

Just a day earlier he was due to attend my NHS retirement dinner but could not make it. Instead, that very day, he penned me a three page, handwritten complimentary letter in which he reflected on my professional and personal life to date, and on where he believed Obstetrics was going in these islands. The next day I swiftly replied, thanking him and concurring on many of his observations. A reply he never actually received, for that evening, Ian his son, who is also a member of this College, called me to inform me of his death. Prof was sharp, warm, encouraging and perceptive to the end.

He was born in Demerera, British Guyana, in 1925, and throughout his life continued a love affair with that island in particular and the West Indies in general. His childhood and teenage years were ones of hunting, shooting and fishing in idyllic surroundings.

He came to Northern Ireland in 1946 and graduated from Queens University in 1953. His early academic interests are revealed in one of his first publications, where a paper, published in 1963 in the journal of British Obstetric and Gynaecological Practice, and co authored by CHG Macafee, extolled the appropriate, and then fairly radical, virtues of taking a conservative approach to the management of APH due to Placenta Praevia.

He went on to develop one of the first joint Diabetic clinics in these islands, and this area became the mainstay of his clinical and academic contribution from thence onwards.

In 1978 he received an Honorary chair from Queens University in Belfast and he also became an Irish member of this Council, the latter being a calling he relished.

He was noted for being a diligent, thoughtful contributor who also made a major impact on six College Committees, and the College's wine cellar.

He progressed to being our representative on the GMC, a position he held with authority and energy for many years.

He always had an excellent working relationship with his midwifery colleagues and indeed, I believe uniquely, was appointed VP of the RCM in 1990.

As well as a well-recognised academic, Prof also had a large private practise. Amongst the thousands of deliveries he attended, it appeared he also was present at the birth of most of the offspring of those present at his service of remembrance two weeks ago. He strongly believed that doctors should play an active role in the combined obstetric and midwifery team in ensuring that a woman’s pregnancy was as normal as possible. He loved and respected women. Something not always seen in his genera by his generational peers.

He married a daughter of the manse, Mona, in 1958, and over a 35 year marriage they had five children and all have been very successful in their chosen careers. Mona tragically passed away in 1994 bringing to a conclusion a long, warm and successful marriage.

In recent years he has enjoyed the valued companionship and the immense support, compassion and endearment of Dr Helen McEwan from Glasgow, who herself had long sat in this Chamber.

This relationship was a joy for many of us to behold over the past decade and a half. They travelled the world on a regular fashion, rarely missing out on conferences, cricket test matches, especially in the Caribbean, family get-togethers and frequent dinners at this College.

Prof was renowned for his hospitality. There are few places in the world where one encounters JUGS of Gin & Tonic, but aside from the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel in Singapore, there was also Stand Lodge on the Malone Road in Belfast. His much spoken mantra was "No bird ever flew on one wing", and after leaving his residence, one often had to resort to this form of transport in order to reach home. He regarded English measures as appalling, and only suitable for the meek.

There are only two sorts of men in this world, wee men and big men, and the difference is nothing to do with height. Prof was a man of small stature, but of huge professional standing, supreme integrity and dignity. A man who could easily bridge generation gaps, he was comfortable in the company of all.

When Kim Dawson wrote to me on behalf of the President, asking me to give a short eulogy, I replied immediately and positively. She responded and wrote "He was a lovely man. Always had a kind and thoughtful word for you. He was both interesting and interested. We shall miss him".

Thank you Kim, I think that says it all.

Prof Jim Dornan, Chair Fetal Medicine QUB, Int College Fellow, July 21st 2012