Centenarian Dr Perry Harrison celebrated his 100th birthday with an exhibition and sale of paintings inspired by his time as a rural GP.
Prior to his passing in late 2016, he told Scottish Field about his life and love of painting.
Talk us through your career in medicine.
During the war I was a medical officer with the Merchant Navy working on the Clan Line; then I served in the Royal Navy with the Atlantic convoys. It was at the height of the threat from U-boats, so I had to deal with survivors as well as crew from escorts that had been torpedoed. I had minimal equipment, so it was very challenging. After the war, at the start of the NHS, I worked in orthopaedics, then I was an assistant GP for three years before getting the post in Strathblane, where I was the GP for 35 years.
What was life like as a rural GP?
There was an incredible variety of work. It was a dispensing practice for five years which was interesting, I even made pills. I also did dental anaesthetics and made visits to Lennox Castle, which was a hospital for patients who required long-term care. This was all at the same time as being a GP. Patients depended on me to help them. One of my favourite aspects was obstetrics, I loved delivering babies in their homes. Once I delivered a baby in a traveller’s bender tent in the snow. I was on call 24 hours, seven days a week.
Did the area throw up many challenges?
The practice covered a large area and there were no mobile phones in those days, so I could arrive home from a remote farmhouse only to find I had to turn around and retrace my steps, then make another call near to the first one. My wife Cecile took the messages – she was my unpaid receptionist and secretary. Once I was phoned by a patient who was concerned about the health of an old man living rough on the moor. He had lost his home and family during the bombing of Clydebank. The day I was told about him was very cold and icy, and it took a long time to tramp over the moors to find him.
What has been your proudest moment?
Becoming a founder member of the Royal College of GPs gave me a sense of satisfaction – after all, I was just a rural GP. The college also accepted my proposal to arrange for undergraduate medical students to gain practical experience by being attached to GP practices, including my own, of course. I was very glad I’d proposed this because, before that, new GPs started the job with no direct practical experience.
Another ‘proud moment’ was when my heraldic design for the Royal College of GPs was adopted. Overall, though, what has given me lasting pleasure and satisfaction is the affection that patients have shown me throughout my career and even into my retirement. I was overwhelmed by how many turned up for my 100th birthday tea! I’ve felt honoured and privileged to have been part of their lives.
When did you start painting?
I didn’t get art at school, but I was interested in the design of my school badge. I think that’s what started my interest in heraldry. I began to collect other schools’ crests, then I began to sketch. When I became a medical student, I enjoyed making sketches for anatomy and zoology classes. During other lectures, I found it made it easier for me to understand if I made sketches as well as notes.
What inspires your paintings?
Simply the beauty of the surrounding countryside. When I was out on my rounds of house calls, I’d see the area in all seasons, with the different colours and light. I’d always have a sketch book in my car and maybe stop for five minutes to catch a scene on paper. I never tired of the same views as they were always changing. I’ve painted using different mediums and done everything from still life to portraiture to abstract to life painting.
How did your recent exhibition go?
I wanted to bring together many years of work so I held an exhibition to mark my 100th birthday. I had more than 50 watercolours for sale and raised around £3,500 for Médecins Frontières and Practical Action.
(This feature was first published in 2016)