Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Dr James Yates (1st May 1916 – 5th May 2016)

I first met Dr. Jim Yates about 16 years ago, when he and his wife Norah were living in Melbourne – and they started seeing me as their regular GP at the clinic where I worked. Despite the difference in our ages, Jim and I soon realised that we had a lot in common – and so from being merely Jim’s doctor I gradually eased into the role of being his trusted friend.

James Horace Yates was born just over a hundred years ago in the Nilgiri Hills (the “Blue Mountains” of southern India) to Alfred and Ganapathy Yates. His father Alfred was an Englishman while his mother Ganapathy was an Indian lady. Educated at the Laidlaw Memorial School in Ketti and the Stanes Secondary School in Coimbatore, Jim won a scholarship to the prestigious Madras Medical College from where (having played hockey and boxed for Madras University) he graduated as a doctor in 1938.

It was at the Laidlaw School, when they were both five years old that Jim met Tony Gillan who became his lifelong friend – and therein lies a tale.

One day, in the course of conversation with Jim’s son Phillip I asked him how Jim had first met his wife Norah. Phillip told me that soon after graduating from medical school and commencing work as a hospital doctor, Dr. Jim and his friend Tony Gillan had married the two ward sisters Norah and Beryl.

“Ah” I asked, sensing a tale of hospital romance here “did your Mum and Dad meet while working in the same hospital?”

Phillip looked puzzled. “No, my Mum never worked in a hospital. Dad first met her when she was still attending high school”.

Now it was my turn to look confused. “But I thought you said she was one of the nursing sisters working on the hospital ward?”

Phillip continued to look puzzled “No, Mum was never a nurse!” he replied.

It took me a while for the penny to drop (as my daughter often says,  “Thathi, you are SOO slow on the uptake!”) until I realised that the two good looking girls that Jim and Tony ended up marrying were not nursing sisters but genuine sisters whose surname happened to be Ward.

Although Jim and Norah were married soon after he graduated, war clouds were looming over Europe and Jim volunteered to serve as a medical officer with the British Indian Army. He saw service on India’s NorthWest Frontier as well as in Egypt, Persia and Palestine. With the end of the war Major (Dr.) Yates of the Army Medical Corps returned to India where their first child Sandra was born – but following a holiday spent in the neighbouring British colony of Ceylon in 1947, Jim decided to move here with his family. Here he obtained a post as the company doctor for the Lunuva (Ceylon) Tea Estates Company – and it was in Ceylon that Jim and Norah’s son Phillip was born.

Jim worked for almost 25 years as a medical officer looking after the company’s officers, its tea plantation workers and their families on its vast tea estates situated in the salubrious hill country of Sri Lanka – and was well known among the planting community in the Uva hills. He earned a well-deserved reputation as a conscientious and caring doctor by whom all – whether they were rich or poor, of high estate or low – were assured of being treated well.

Many years ago I recall my own father telling me “Learn to treat everyone with more respect than you may think they deserve – and never with less respect than they expect.” This appeared to be Jim’s philosophy as well – it did not matter whether his patient was the manager of the tea plantation or a humble tea plucker, the factory manager or the cook – he treated them all with compassion and respect, and was much loved and respected by all his patients.

In the late sixties sadly the political situation in Ceylon was changing, and Jim, encouraged by Ceylonese friends like Dr. Gigi Anderson and his wife Lorraine who had themselves migrated to Melbourne, applied to migrate to Australia. The decision to leave Ceylon was not an easy one – he had a very good position as medical officer to one of the biggest plantation companies here, both children had been educated at two of the country’s most prestigious schools, he and Norah had a very comfortable lifestyle and many good friends there. In 1971, having delayed their final parting from Ceylon as long as possible, Jim and Norah together with their children Sandra and Phillip migrated to Australia.

Their new life in Melbourne was not easy, although being an ex-British army doctor Jim was able, without too much difficulty, to secure a job with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in which, at the time he finally retired, he had risen to the position of a Director. When he started, however, he had to leave home at 6.30 in the morning to take the tram into the city, often not getting home until after 6.30 pm. This was a major change from walking in just over two minutes between their spacious plantation home and his hospital, coming home for lunch and an afternoon siesta, having a lovely house with gardeners and domestic staff – and being driven to the various plantations he looked after by his own driver.

But Jim was aware that, like many of those who migrated to this country late in life, giving all this up and coming to a new country is the sort of sacrifice that they are called upon to make for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Jim and Norah’s progeny certainly did well in Australia, and the Yates family has certainly come a long way from the Nilgiri hills of India. His children and grandchildren will I am sure be grateful, as they look back on his life, for the sacrifice that Jim and Norah made, forsaking their comfortable life in Ceylon to migrate overseas for the betterment of the family.

Jim well knew the value of education and learning. Until his nineties in fact he used to regularly do the difficult crossword in the Melbourne Age newspaper and read medical journals. Many were the occasions when I myself learned about new drugs and medical advances, not from my younger colleagues, but from my over 90-year-old friend Dr. Jim Yates!

To have a lived a hundred years upon this earth, to have witnessed all the momentous changes that have taken place during his own lifetime was certainly a great achievement. Although naturally, as human beings, we will mourn the loss of Jim, we will also be thankful for his life – a life well lived, a life of moral rectitude, a life of service.

I am sure that since the beginning of human thought, we human beings have wondered and speculated about what happens to us when we die – and I am sure people will continue to discuss and debate this subject long after we ourselves have left this world.

But I firmly believe that after we leave this earthly existence we still continue to live on in the memories of those who loved us and cared for us – and I am sure that my friend Jim will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of all of us here who had the privilege of knowing and being touched by him – a man who was quiet and dignified, who was compassionate and caring, and who to the end of his days was ever an officer and a gentleman.



One comment on “Dr James Yates (1st May 1916 – 5th May 2016)

  1. Ajith Tudugalle
    May 29, 2016

    Very interesting I do firmly believe, memories of our family, friends and even strangers we meet will be with us for ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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