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Obituary: Dr Derek Browne – former Brockenhurst GP and exercise enthusiast

Dr Derek Browne retired in 2002 after 27 years as a GP
Dr Derek Browne retired in 2002 after 27 years as a GP

A POPULAR and well-respected Brockenhurst GP who served for almost 30 years at the same practice has died aged 78.

Dr Derek Browne served on the committees of many local organisations, including as president of the Friends of Brockenhurst, a trustee of Age Concern and Brendon Care, and chair for the rural group of the College of General Practitioners.

The son of missionary parents, Derek was born on 24th September 1942 at Yakusu in the former Belgian Congo at the height of the Second World War. There were no facilities for educating children of missionaries, so at the age of three he returned to the UK to attend boarding school.

Although his school days were not the happiest, and initially he was bottom of the class in all subjects having struggled with dyslexia, with the encouragement and guidance of one teacher, Mr Campion, he overcame this to excel in all subjects.

His father Dr Stanley Browne was a world authority on leprosy and it was while watching his parents working in Africa that Derek realised his life’s work would also be in medicine.

He changed his career path from engineering and was accepted into medical school.

He qualified in 1967 at the age of 25 and three years later he married Esther, a nurse. They spent their honeymoon hitchhiking around Kenya and, after a short spell working in England, they went by boat to Nigeria with their four-month-old son, Martin.

Derek worked there as a senior registrar in tropical medicine at a teaching hospital in Kaduna for two years and it was during this time that daughter Janine was born.

In Kaduna, Derek became interested in community health. He had seen the stigma of leprosy patients and also the need to use education and limited medical resources to help heal and treat patients holistically.

In 1975 the family returned to England and Derek joined Brockenhurst Surgery as a GP. It was his experience of rural needs in Africa that began what became a life-long interest in healthy living and he introduced the idea of exercise on prescription in 1983.

His concept of “exercise prevents body rust” was also used to create partnerships between primary care, leisure centres and the community.

He ran the London Marathon in 1983 and helped to raise over £34,000 to purchase the freehold of Brockenhurst Village Hall from Hampshire County Council. He used his skills as a local primary school governor to encourage the education department to spend £30,000 to purchase the adjacent playing field for the primary school.

These ideas of community involvement helped create the world’s first Healthy Village Project, as identified by the World Health Organisation, in which local resources could be harnessed to improve the health and social needs of the community. The Healthy Village Project is now used as a model around the world.

Derek was the first GP to be appointed in health promotion to the Southampton Health District in 1976. This included lecturing to schools, voluntary organisations and giving talks on health for the local radio station.

He retired in 2002 after 27 years as a GP but continued to lecture nationally and internationally on health-related activities, the older person in retirement and helping support those with inequalities in health and social issues.

He also continued to support the International Leprosy Association and Leprosy Mission to help reduce the associated stigma by helping to reintegrate cured patients into the community using the Healthy Village concept.

In 2012, Derek was nominated to carry the Olympic Torch through Ludgershall in Wiltshire, in recognition of his achievements in Brockenhurst.

A keen sportsman, Derek completed 15 marathons and many half-marathons. He also travelled extensively. In October 2020 he and Esther, who played a pivotal role in supporting and encouraging Derek’s work, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

He is survived by Esther, Martin, Janine and his five grandchildren.

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