Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 28, September 1984

DR. LIONEL REXFORD HETHERINGTON O.B.E. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 28, September 1984

The community of Waihi mourned the passing of Dr. Rex Hetherington when he died at his retirement home in Taupo on February 22, 1984. A memorial service was held in St. James' -Presbyterian Church, Waihi, on Friday 2nd February when the following eulogy was delivered by Waihi's Mayor, Mr. O. J. Morgan.

"On your behalf it is my privilege to acknowledge and put into words the deep feeling of gratitude that we have for the life of Dr. Rex Hetherington, and for the unstinting and dedicated service he gave to our community and to the welfare of so many others during the whole of his working life."

"For more than 40 years 'There goes Dr. Hetherington' was a common cry as he was seen dashing about in his jazzy sports car going from one call to another day or night", continued Mr. Morgan.

"He became a legend in his own time for he did not ever turn down a call for help no matter how far away it was, and no matter at times how trivial it may have appeared to him. So long as his presence was able to relieve the worry of an anxious young mother, or remove a doubt from an aging 75-year-old, that was regard [reward? – E] enough.

"Nor were the calls confined to the Waihi area. His Riley car was often seen speeding out to Whangamata, Waikino and Waihi Beach. It was not unknown for him to return from a night call to Whangamata only to find a message asking him to return to another patient. Often on these occasions his wife Mary would accompany him so as to keep him awake on that winding, dusty, lonely road.

"Mary Hetherington was very much a part of the team and together they built up a reputation to sympathetic understanding with all their patients.

"And in spite of these frequent night-time calls, the doctor was always at the hospital at 8 a.m. looking well groomed and fresh, to make his ceremonial tour of the wards and to exchange a cheery word with all the patients. Tuesday was always operating day and many a troublesome appendix was removed by his skilful hands. During his consulting hours Dr. Hetherington's waiting room was always full of patients but this did not stop him from finding time to chat with each one of them and to put them at ease. I am sure he regarded this as part of his healing therapy. No one ever left his surgery without feeling better for having come.

"Dr. Hetherington and his bride came to Waihi when he was 25 and immediately set the standard he was to live by for the next 43 years.

"In July 1933 an accident at the mine caused a cage carrying men going on afternoon shift to break loose and go plummeting down No. 2 shaft only to miraculously jam in the timber guides and come to an abrupt stop a few hundred feet from the bottom.

"The 13 miners in -that cage suffered severe injuries and it was Dr. Eric Bridgeman and Rex Hetherington who risked their own lives by crawling into that teetering cage to administer pain killing drugs and apply temporary splints. A large part of Waihi's population assembled at the top of No.4 shaft on that cold, frosty July evening 50 years ago. I was there and I recall that as each man was brought to the surface a spontaneous cheer broke from the crowd, but the loudest and most prolonged cheering was when Dr. Hetherington and Bridgeman emerged after the last casualty had been whisked off to the hospital.

"And so Dr. Hetherington, at that early age, won great admiration and respect and his name began to be interwoven with Waihi's history.

"But let's not forget his ready wit or delightful sense of fun that he had. The quip that could turn a patient's over-reaction into an occasion of merriment. Everyone has a favourite Dr. Hetherington story. Like the man who turned up with an allergy which was diagnosed as being caused by talcum powder. 'I'll have my wife change her brand', said the patient. 'Or else change your wife', quipped the Doctor. Or the very young husband who rang the surgery in some consternation saying 'I've had my wife in bed all day.' 'Aren't you lucky' came the quick reply.

"No wonder we feel such an affection towards Rex and Mary Hetherington. No wonder we gathered in great numbers to wish them well when in 1973 they retired to Taupo to go fishing and begin to do things they had never had time to do before. Even a game of golf in his younger days was often interrupted by a message being shouted around the course until he was found. And how many remember the usher's torch seeking him out at the old Academy picture theatre.

"No wonder we rejoiced with him and Mary when his name was included in the 1974 Queen's New Year honours. No wonder that we built a senior citizens home in 1977 and we called it Hetherington House.

No wonder that we grieved with him and his family when Mary died in 1979.

No wonder that we grieve with his family, John and Mary Ann, Peter and Nicki at the loss of a father, grandfather and friend.

"The day after the official farewell in 1973, an old miner rather hesitantly knocked on Dr. Hetherington's door with a gift which he had made. It was a very simple model of No. 4 shaft poppet head.

"I know that this very plain inexpensive gift held pride of place in his Taupo home. I know too, that it symbolised the quiet respect and devotion which the people of this district held for Rex and Mary Hetherington.

This model has been presented to the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum by Dr. Hetherington's family.