28 January 2023

Yass celebrates life of family man, healer and friend

| Sally Hopman
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Dr Ray Burn will be sadly missed by the people of Yass and surrounds whom he served as their doctor for more than 20 years. Photo: Camilla Duffy.

It was the late 1970s and Dr Ray Burn was up in the Northern Territory working at the Darwin Hospital.

A staunch family man, he had asked as many of his children as were available to come up and visit him. That was quite an ask for this father of Jennifer, Dianne, Peter, Mary (deceased), Gregory, Catherine and Ruth, and stepfather, with wife Ann Daniel, of Mary, Wendy, Deirdre, James, Julie, Paul, Hugh, Robert, Sean and Lucy, to say nothing of his 36 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

He missed his children, but, he told them, he knew he was luckier than most to have such a strong, loving family.

According to his son Gregory, yes, Ray wanted to see his family but he was just as keen for them to come up to the hospital and sit with his patients who never received visitors. That, Gregory told Dr Ray Burn’s funeral service in Yass last week, was the sort of man his father was – always putting the needs of his patients ahead of his own.

“Dad was very conscious of the many patients who never had any families visit them so he asked us to spend time with them,” Gregory said.

One of the patients was an Indigenous man who had been speared in his side because of payback. Dr Burn wanted his children to listen to his stories – so they did.

St Augustine’s Catholic Church, Yass, was packed to capacity on 20 January to celebrate the life of Dr Raymond James Burn, RFD, ED, BE, MB, BS, LLB, FACLM, who died on 12 January. Born on 11 December, 1929, he was 93.

Man behind desk

Ray Burn was a businessman, inventor, military man, manufacturer, chemical engineer and lawyer before settling on his career in medicine. Photo: Camilla Duffy.

In his eulogy, Gregory Burn said he was a fortunate man to have had such a father.

“I remember clearly how he used to tell stories to me,” he said. “He never read them from books, he always made them up as he went and I was always the protagonist in them, always the hero.”

Gregory also spoke about his father’s devotion to the military, serving in the Army Reserves for 29 years.

“He’d come home wearing his army gear, I remember that big grey coat he had. I’d be complaining about something insignificant and he’d come in wearing that coat and he would place that great coat over me and all my troubles would disappear.”

But, he said family members were never at a loss that they’d done the wrong thing when their father was around.

He recalled one day when his sister Catherine “was busted smoking”.

“Dad ended up taking her up to the morgue to show her the lungs of a smoker.”

Perhaps one of the closest relationships he had was with his oldest granddaughter, Hannah, the only child to follow in his footsteps into medicine. She joined his Yass practice in 2012 – despite him, ironically, trying to talk her out of it.

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“He was pleased that I was interested in medicine, but he was quite grave about the prospects of it and not particularly enthusiastic,” she said. “He was very careful to caution me about the difficulties I would encounter as well as the benefits.”

His wife Ann Daniel spoke at the service, saying she was farewelling the “love of my life”.

The two had first met while at university in Sydney, nodding to each other while crossing an oval, both with respective friends at the time.

But from their first meeting over a cup of instant coffee, it was the start of a love story “for the ages”, Gregory Burn said.

“It really was a marriage to aspire to,” he said. “They made a great effort to be kind to each other, both got a kick out of seeing each other succeed, Ray as a doctor, Ann as a professor of sociology.”

Four people outside medical clinic

Medicine was always a family affair for Dr Ray Burn, pictured with (from left) receptionist Karen Dawes, granddaughter Dr Hannah Burn-Petersen with Huxley the dog, and his wife Ann Daniel. Photo: Camilla Duffy.

Although medicine was his passion, Dr Burn spent his early career in a variety of fields, from manufacturing stamp pads to chemical engineering to the law. In his later life, he would develop a passion for the land, buying Qamba outside Yass. He loved to learn and teach and did so right up until his death.

“Days before he died,” Gregory said, “my sister said, ‘Come to the hospital, Dad wants to see us’.”

Fearing the worst, the family obliged, only to discover that Ray had decided it was the perfect time to give his non-rural members of the family a one-on-one lesson in fine wool and cross-breeding.

As a doctor, he knew his prognosis. He knew, the service was told, that soon he would just go to sleep and not wake up.

“One day he went to sleep and woke up suddenly to see one of my sisters,” Gregory said. “‘I am in heaven’, Dad said, there’s an angel’.”

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