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A Tribute to Mr. Hugh Atherson McKie

A Tribute to Mr. Hugh Atherson McKie


My relationship with Hugh or Brother, as he was popularly and affectionately known, dates back to 1950 after I had secured admission to Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. Anxious to be introduced to any aspect of the study of Medicine available on the island, at my father’s suggestion, I sought out a gentleman by the name of Mr Hugh Mckie who ran the laboratory at the then Colonial Hospital. Not knowing what manner of man he was, and still the shy little country boy from Layou, I approached him with some measure of anxiety. But, from the very moment I was greeted with that characteristic welcoming smile, all my uneasiness evaporated instantly. Hugh was only pleased to share with me the elementary procedures involved in the several aspects of his work. And so, I left St. Vincent in September 1950 with a useful knowledge of the range and content of some basic laboratory investigations and technique. On learning that I was about to go to Belfast, he told me of the Northern Irishman, Dr Clearkin, under whose tutelage he had studied in the then British Guiana, and who had since returned home to Northern Ireland. This proved to be a useful bit of news, because, when I arrived in Belfast, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dr Clearkin who was then the students’ doctor at the Queen’s University. He was delighted to hear news of Hugh, his former student.

On my return home in 1963, I was delighted to find Hugh in charge of the x-ray department. Not only was I guaranteed prompt and good quality x-ray pictures, but it proved an additional boon in that he was very pleased to spend long periods in the operating theatre taking x-ray pictures which guided my insertion of special metal nails in the broken hips of my patients, operations which had never been done here before. Never once did he ever complain of these sometimes extended periods, or leave prematurely to get home to his family. Moreover, he never indicated by word or deed any displeasure at being summoned from home at awkward hours to help with an emergency. He was indeed, a dedicated, vital member of our team of happy, altruistic workers, and he complemented the service of our nurses in working for long, financially thankless hours to help our patients.

When I presented my paper at the Commonwealth Caribbean Medical Research Council Scientific Meeting in April 1981 in Nassau, the Bahamas, on the 13 cases of broken necks which we had managed successfully here, the select audience from the region and the United Kingdom were so highly impressed by the quality of the x-ray films which I showed that they wanted to know who the radiographer was. Moreover, one regional professor of surgery expressed the wish that the person would visit his island to teach their radiographers the technique in filming that most difficult region of the spinal column, the last vertebra of the neck and the first one of the chest. I was very proud to tell them that name of the unassuming, competent gentleman was Mr Hugh Mckie of St. Vincent. The interesting fact was that he produced such magnificent x-ray pictures with perhaps the most defunct x-ray machines in the region if not in the entire world. After, of necessity, when I built my own little Botanic Hospital, Hugh was very pleased to work with us part-time to establish our fledgling x-ray department.

In our lighter moments we occasionally swapped stories. The one of his that fascinated me was about the nightly disappearance of an egg from their kitchen, which the three brothers could not fathom. And so, one night, as they waited in the dark, armed with an appropriate weapon and a flash light, two rats appeared. One clutched an egg with its four legs and turned over on to its back, and the other began to drag it by its tail for their late-night snack! Of course, they were not allowed to get very far.

I do not know the origin of the name Brother, but it was most apt, for that smiling, gentle, courteous gentleman treated everyone as a veritable brother; certainly myself. He was a close friend, mentor and ally to me, especially during those 13 troubled years at the Colonial Hospital. And this relationship continued even during his incapacity at home, for I telephoned him occasionally and we had long chats. And so, it is only fitting that I apologise for the absence of my wife and myself at his funeral, but we had reached as near as RBTT Bank on our way to the funeral when we had to return home because of an emergency.

Hugh, all of us will miss the quiet, almost inaudible monotone, the entrancing whisper in which you spoke your words of greetings, of comfort and cheer to us, with that smile of welcoming sincerity. We yearn for yet another such humble Presence to guide our wayward youth of today.

To Stacy, Nickie and the rest of the family, we offer our heartfelt sympathy. But we rejoice in the assurance that, because Hugh so lovingly touched and enriched the lives of so many of us, he will always be immortal among the living here on earth as he will be in heaven.