21 July 2022

Batemans Bay community pays tribute to favourite 'old school' doctor

| Sally Hopman
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Group of people in park

Friends and family of Dr John Berick gathered at the park near his former Batemans Bay practice to celebrate his life. They raised funds to dedicate a bench in his honour, located under the tree. Photo: Supplied.

“John was one of the last old-school bush GPs. He looked after people from cradle to grave, including some of our most disadvantaged. He was compassionate and down to earth … definitely a glass-half-full person.”

This condolence message to the family of Dr John Maxwell Berick, who died in September last year aged 71, was typical of the high esteem in which the long-serving doctor was held by his beloved South Coast community.

The husband of the late Helen and father of three sons, Scott, Andrew and David, Dr Berick, or “JB” to his friends, left his mark on the South Coast community through his commitment to patients and the hospitals where he cared for them.

At his funeral his brother Phillip said he was the sort of man who knew from an early age that he wanted to be a doctor just so he could help people.

When Dr Berick, late of Benandarah in the Eurobodalla, died at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, his Batemans Bay funeral was streamed on YouTube but only 10 people could attend.

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Because many of his friends had been unable to celebrate his life, they banded together earlier this month to buy a memorial bench, complete with a plaque honouring the Batemans Bay doctor.

The bench was installed on the foreshore near the marina on July 3, where Dr Berick ran his Batemans Bay practice from 1973.

Dr Berick’s son Scott and long-time friends and colleagues Sue Novak and Georgie Rowley organised a fundraiser to install the bench.

It was “dedicated to his service to the region and for his family and friends to enjoy and think of him when visiting” according to Georgie, a nurse who worked alongside Dr Berick for 25 years.

“He really was a remarkable doctor. It was such a privilege,” she said.

“I know he would feel like he shouldn’t deserve such recognition – he would be very humbled all the same.

“The nurses all adored him. We miss his ‘Morning Team’ greetings when he came into the hospital.”

Georgie said Dr Berick was very popular on the South Coast, describing him as devoted to caring for his patients and admired by fellow rural doctors for his work ethic, caring soul, sense of humour and the fact he never had a bad word to say about anyone.

Family picture

Dr John Berick with his family at his beloved Batemans Bay. Photo: Georgie Rowley.

“Doctors like JB are few and far between these days – old school doctors with the multiple life-saving skills required for rural medicine,” Georgie said.

“There’s only a handful left who have dedicated their lives to the community in the Eurobodalla.”

Born in Wyalong District Hospital, John Berick was a “bushie” from day one, growing up on the family farm at Tabletop before going off to Albury Grammar boarding school.

He began his medical career at Sydney University, starting off as a conservative student complete with short back and sides but soon getting very used to Sydney’s bright life.

His funeral service was told the young country bloke took to city life like a duck to water.

He completed his residency at St Vincent’s Hospital and was later to meet a young nurse, Helen O’Brien. The couple married in Goulburn before moving down to the South Coast. They celebrated their 45th year of marriage last year.

At the funeral, tributes were given from friends of many years and colleagues Dr Berick had worked with throughout his professional life. One mentioned how Dr Berick would regularly turn up for his weekend shift at the hospital wearing his farm gear, complete with wellington boots – and almost always with wet hair having just come from one of his favourite pastimes, swimming.

“He was a great Dad,” his son Scott said.

“He was really a hands-on father. He taught us how to be good people.

“After he got sick, you’d go for a walk around town and everyone would always ask how he was doing.”

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According to those he worked with in the surgery, Dr Berick would always see the most vulnerable people. When asked by one of the nurses why he did so, he said, “If I turn them away, they’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Several letters read at the funeral came from patients, one of whom said he had no doubt Dr Berick had saved his life.

The man was in a life-threatening car accident and taken to Batemans Bay Hospital via ambulance, with Dr Berick sitting alongside him. Though the severity of his injuries landed him in hospital for seven months, the man had survived thanks to Dr Berick’s care.

The patient described the care he received as “a life-changing event”.

Other health professionals wrote to say it had “been a privilege” to work with Dr Berick, describing him as “a marvellous storyteller” and “a man with a wonderful sense of humour” adding that he loved his “family and his tractor”.

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