Obituary: Dr John ‘Jack’ Argo, doctor, war veteran and Rotarian who dedicated his life to people of Inverurie
John, more usually known as “Jack” to his peers, Argo was a compassionate man whose abiding friendship, guidance and honesty lived out the epitaph Robert Burns wrote for William Muir:
“The friend of man, the friend of truth,
“The friend of age, and guide of youth.”
Although born in London, his father had come from the hamlet of Cairdseat close to Pitmedden, Aberdeenshire, and it gave Jack enormous delight to come to work in an Aberdeenshire practice.
He attended St Dunstan’s College in London, and his housemaster described him in 1936 as a “conscientious, able and steady worker”. His clear objective was to become a doctor.
He became a wartime medical student at Guy’s Hospital from 1939 to 1943.
On qualifying as a surgeon and physician (MRC and LRCP) – the records of King’s College London also show that he was a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners – he moved to Scotland to work at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Later that year he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp and undertook further training in tropical medicine, gas warfare medicine and field hygiene.
He and Babs were married in Aberdeen, in 1944. Two months later he was ordered to the south of England to mobilise for the Normandy, D-Day landings.
During active service in Europe, he worked day and night in casualty clearing stations in Bayeux and Bruges, treating countless men with atrocious injuries in temporary hospital tents.
The Allied advance saw him cross the Rhine into Germany. In July 1945, with victory secured in Europe, he was sent home for ten days’ leave before setting sail from Liverpool for India.
By this time, Jack was serving in the 25th Dragoons Tank regiment as its medical officer based in Bangalore and Madras but travelling with the regiment throughout the sub-continent.
A year before the regiment’s disbandment, in 1947, he was flown back to the UK to become medical officer at the Duke of Wellington Barracks in Halifax, Yorkshire, before finally being demobbed in December.
Three years later he found himself back at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, briefly, before becoming assistant to the late Dr Nicol in Inverurie. Here, in the writer’s parish, he worked tirelessly as a respected and much-loved GP for the following 35 years until he retired in 1981.
There were two medical practices in Inverurie in the two decades following the 1950s. The role of a family doctor in those days was very different from what it is today.
He frequently made up to 30 home visits as well as holding three surgeries every day. Night calls inevitably meant pulling on trousers and jacket over pyjamas, and later returning to bed, hoping that neither Babs nor their three children had been wakened.
In spite of that punishing workload, he was a devoted husband and father, taking enormous pride in the fact that every member of the four generations of his family lived within 30 minutes travelling time of his home in Inverurie.
But this doctor not only looked after the general health of the folks of his adoptive town; he took the idea of service to the town council where he spent several years as senior burgess and guild brother making the annual procession from the Town Hall to the Auld Kirk behind the 18th-century Burgesses’ Bible for the annual Kirking of the Council, the same Bible which now sits in the Lord Lieutenant’s pew when he is present at civic services.
Through his vocation, he also served on the management committee of the Red Cross houses in St Andrew’s Gardens. Eventually the two medical practices merged to form the Inverurie Medical Group, with its base in Constitution Street, where Jack served till his retirement in 1982.
Jack Argo was a founder member of the Rotary Club of Inverurie. He is one of the five gentlemen whom the club regard as its Founding Fathers. On Monday, 19 January, 1953, he met up with Armurdo farmer Andrew Allan, Johnston Hay of Hay’s Lemonade, electrician Alex Mackie and banker Robert Philip and, with the guidance of two Aberdeen Rotarians, proceeded to form the Interim Rotary Club of Inverurie, which enjoyed its Charter Dinner in that September. Andrew Allan became president, with Dr Jack as vice-president – and Robert Philip and Johnston Hay became treasurer and secretary respectively.
Jack became president in July 1954 – and the three others followed suit in successive years.
Jack was a keen curler in his spare time, and was an enthusiastic and skilful member of the Inverurie Rotarian Team, which distinguished itself in the north of Scotland, bringing home the Rams Head Trophy in 1962, this being the most prestigious curling prize in Rotary.
He was also a member of the four-man Inverurie team which visited Canada in 1965 to play a series of Bonspiels.
At the club’s 21st anniversary in 1974, it was noted that Jack had had 21 years of perfect attendance at Rotary meetings and this remarkable feat he continued for many, many years.
In 1988, Dr Jack was rewarded with a Paul Harris Fellowship – the highest honour in Rotary – for his long and valued service to club and community.
This award was followed on his 80th birthday by his being awarded Honorary Membership. Jack, as the last surviving founder member, was asked to deliver the grace at the club’s 50th anniversary dinner in 2003. Ecclesiasticus sums it up best when it says:
“Honour the Doctor with the honour that is his due in return for his services; for he, too, has been created by the Lord.
“Healing itself comes from the Most High, like a gift from a King.
‘The doctor’s learning keeps his head high, he is regarded with awe by potentates.”
Jack is survived by his wife, Babs, their three children, Rosemary, David and Maxwell, and their children.
T Graeme Longmuir