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Obituary: Rory O’Connor

This is the tribute given by Andrew Curtain for Rory O’Connor who was the Irish Members’ representative on Council 2003–2006.

Rory O’Connor was born in Dublin, graduating in 1981 from the undergraduate college of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

His mother was a midwife and his father trained as an anaesthetist. Dr. O’Connor senior, held the highest rank in the Irish army, serving as Commandant and overall Director of Medical services for all the armed services in that country.

Initially, Rory pursued a general surgical training, obtaining Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1986, but always with the intention of making a career in obstetrics and gynaecology. This surgical grounding set him apart from his contemporaries.

His early training was in Dublin, at two large maternity hospitals, the Coombe Women’s Hospital and the Rotunda Hospital. From the Rotunda, he rotated to the Hammersmith Hospital and then moved to University College Hospital as registrar. The Hammersmith Hospital – Northwick Park Hospital Senior Registrar rotation followed. There he trained with Mr Ronnie Lamont, Miss Joan Pitkin and Mr Harry Gordon, developing an interest in female urinary incontinence. He became a Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1990 and was admitted to Fellowship in 2006. He spent seven happy years at Stevenage Hospital as consultant before the challenge of a position at University Hospital Galway drew him back to Ireland. There, resisting the temptation of a large obstetric private practice, he brought and used to good effect his skills in urogynaecology and gynaecological surgery. Registrars who rotated to his team were exposed to a sound training in surgical technique.

A strong supporter of the College, he was until recently an examiner for Membership and served on Council as Members’ Representative for Ireland from 2003 until 2006. In Ireland, he was active in the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, particularly in the area of training. He was appointed National Director of Training in 2008 and later the same year was elected Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, remaining in both these posts until his death.

On meeting the man himself, one invariably got the wrong impression. He seemed quiet, but was probably sizing one up. He had a manner which in retrospect could have been a military bearing inherited from his father. His opinion was good, forthright and honest. His kindly support for junior colleagues is legendary in Britain and in Ireland. In addition to teaching them how to operate , he took an interest, not just in those on his service, asking what they were up to, about their families and their career aspirations. The fact that nobody forgets a good teacher was evident when so many of his former junior colleagues made the trek to Galway for his funeral.

Unusual for a Southern Irishman and in this respect probably regarded as eccentric, he forsook golf. He had an absolute passion for cricket. His “misspent youth”, he would say. It is certain that his encounter with Harry Gordon did this addiction no good at all. The gentle man and the gentleman’s game. It must be difficult enough to get men in the Republic of Ireland interested in cricket but Rory, showing that he was at his best when the going was tough, became coach for the women’s national team. He was also an expert on fine wines and particularly port.

No eulogy on Rory would be complete without comment on the strength of his marriage. Siobhan is a midwife. They met at Northwick Park Hospital and have two young children, Anna, 12 and David, 10. Rory developed motor neurone disease, characteristically meeting its challenges with a frank openness, remaining active in the affairs of our specialty until speech failed.

Siobhan nursed him at home with great dignity and affection and because of that care, throughout his illness and its debility, he spent only two days in hospital. He died at home on 11th December surrounded by his family. He was fifty four.