19 September 1931–1 April 2017
MNZM, Co St J, FNZMA, MB ChB, Dip Obst
Heather Thomson (nee Baillie) was born in Invercargill, 19 September 1931. Brought up in Southland with two older brothers and hard working parents, she decided to become a doctor at the age of nine. She attended Southland Girls High School and became Dux in 1949, achieving third in New Zealand for Scholarship Latin. A hard working and determined student, she went to Otago University in 1950 where she boarded for the next six years at St Margaret’s.
Heather was a distinguished medical student; one of only five women in her class of 100, she won the Scott Medal for Anatomy in her third year. Graduating in 1955, she went back to her home town and completed her first house surgeon year at Kew Hospital where she met her husband, Forrester Thomson, a returned serviceman and a pathology registrar.
After they married, Forrester and Heather moved to Mataura where Forrester ran a busy rural practice and Heather gave birth to four girls in quick succession. Forrester’s ill health necessitated Heather’s early return to medicine. It was in Mataura that ‘Dr Heather’ started her long association with St John’s. Heather spent over 40 years supporting St John’s with tutorials and examinations, and her contribution was recognised in 2006 when she was awarded the Office of Dame Commander of the Order of St John.
‘Dr Heather’ moved to Invercargill, with her four daughters, in 1968 to escape an unstable home situation. Forrester passed away six years later. She spent three months as a house surgeon at Kew Hospital before setting up in what was to be a very busy general practice attached to the family home—normal for the time. She became a GP anaesthetist and was on call for emergencies, and had regular lists at Kew Hospital and privately at Park Hospital, later to become Southern Cross. She delivered over 3,000 babies during her time in Invercargill.
In 1978, following the controversial passing of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion legislation the year before, she was shoulder-tapped by local MP and Minister, Bryan Talboys to become one of three members of the first Abortion Supervisory Committee. She thoroughly enjoyed her three-year term and it gave her a taste for national medical politics. She was part of the NZMA committee, which took part in maternity negotiations in the 1990’s and later became a Fellow of the NZMA.
Heather went on as one of the first doctors to go to China to study acupuncture, and used it for a time in her private anaesthetic practice for post-operative pain relief, but soon discontinued it in favour of more effective methods.
Heather became an Invercargill City Councillor in 1999 and stayed on for three terms. She represented the council on the Southland Heritage and Rural Trust among others and enjoyed her work on the Boards of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, the Southland Theatre Charitable Trust and as President of the Anderson Park Art Gallery for ten years.
In 2007, Heather was awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of her services to medicine and her local community.
In her spare time, Heather enjoyed going to her holiday house in Arrowtown where she gardened and read books. She was a talented seamstress and later enjoyed painting and making furniture. She travelled widely with family initially and later with friends.
Heather moved to live in Dunedin seven years ago to be close to family and quickly made friends playing bridge and attending lectures at U3A. She was a member of her local church and enjoyed walking her faithful companion Katie around Māori Hill, stopping to talk to anyone and everyone. Heather died suddenly on 1 April 2017 and is survived by her four daughters and seven grandchildren.