The Harland diaspora
12 May 2005
Robin Harland was presented with the Rose Prize at a ceremony full of the circumstance of pomp appropriate to the surroundings of the 400 year old Apothecaries Hall, Blackfriars Lane in the City of London. In  the picture Robin is flanked by Professor Denis Periera Gray of RCGP and Mr. William Shand, Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.

Clockwise from front left: Georgia, Jodi, Robin, Wallace, Jesse, Hannah, Paul, Pam.

This neurological  disease of unknown origin  slowly involved his whole body - leaving a weak voice, very poor hand-writing, a dribbling mouth as well as his marked difficulties in walkng.But he regards himself as more than fortunate to be able to continue living at home.He uses a great walking aid called a Rollator, a Zimmer frame on wheels; and that and his Stannah stair-lift keep him mobile - while his sons look after him so well. He is still able to travel and got a real kick out of the Reunion (2007) and a trip to  Italy in 2008. On this occasion he was very happy to declare another ‘First’ in the Harland family when four generations of our world-wide clan were together. While there they were able to toast Stephen and Adrienne on their wedding day.                                      

Robin and May returned to Park House Sherburn  after this two-year gap; and fitted in right away to the partnership with Dr. Cecil Duncan, with a variety of new different  tasks added down the years. Between 1957 & 1970 Robin taught Health Education, including First Aid, to successive years of teachers-in-training in The College of the Venerable Bede, Durham.  He became a Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1963.


Sherburn Hill colliery closed in 1965, and the workload changed. He started to develop special new medical skills required in the treatment of students, with their admixtures of physical and emotional problems - often compounded with the stress of important examinations. This work included an introduction into sports medicine – but in those days it would not have been recognizable as a medical specialty, as it is in 2004.


Having acquired these skills with the help of students of Durham University, the obvious next step was to return to his Alma Mater. From faraway Durham ‘The Troubles’ seemed remote, and Robin assumed that ‘any strife would be over by Christmas time’. So he launched his wife and family into a civil war scene, which continued with varying severity for 30 years or more. To many, this must have seemed a very strange decision but it can be said that he very much enjoyed his return to Belfast in 1970 on his appointment as ‘Senior Medical Officer in the University Health Service at the Queen's University of Belfast’. He also regarded it as a privilege to be allowed to take part in the teaching of the new Department of as awarded the Buttterworth Gold Medal, an essay prize of the Royal College of General General Practice within the Faculty of Medicine. He was able to dabble in research. In 1978 he wactitioners. Its title was “The Management of Hay-fever in General Practice”  He remained in post until enforced retirement at the 65-age limit in 1991.


He served as Chairman of both the Durham Division of the British Medical Association and the Durham Clinical Society in the sixties: as assistant manager to two overseas tours by Queen’s University Rugby Club - Canada 1972, and Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia 1976: as Secretary of the British Student Health Association 1975 - 1980 and its President 1989 – 1990: as Medical Officer to the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council, 1977 – 1992; this led on to his appointment as a Medical Officer at five consecutive games, Edmonton 1978, Brisbane 1982, Edinburgh 1986, Auckland NZ  1990, and Victoria BC 1994: and as Provost of the Northern Ireland Faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners 1985 –1986. The Convocation of the Queen’s University of Belfast elected him to the Senate of that university in 1992, and this gave Robin the opportunity to serve on hundreds of interviewing panels for new academic staff. He was Chairman of the Northern Ireland section of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 1993 - 2000. In his 75th year he was elected President of the Ulster Medical Society 2000 – 2001. In his Presidential Address he tackled the topic, “The History of the Teaching of the Specialty of General Practice in Northern Ireland”. He had been collating the data on this topic for several years, so the obvious next step was to submit an expanded version as a PhD. His interest in Sport and Exercise Medicine was reflected in a 2005 invitation from ‘The Lancet’ to write an essay entitled “The History of Sport and Exercise Medicine - a UK Perspective”  - with a  publication date of 1 December 2005 -  The Lancet, Vol. 366 No. pp S53-S54


A few awards followed - Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners (FRCGP, 1979); and Fellow of the Institute of Sports Medicine, London (FISM, 1993). After his retirement from the Senate of the University, Queen’s awarded him the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa, in July 2002. An old friend, Martin O’Brien, gave the address.  In 2003 he became a foundation Fellow in the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FFSEM) in Dublin. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland operate this faculty jointly.   In 2004 he was elected as a Life Member of the British Society for Sport and Exercise Medicine. Sports Medicine has come a very long way since Robin first dabbled with this new specialty in Durham University from ‘the middle of the last century’. In December 2005 Robin graduated for the third time at his beloved Queen’s University,when he finally became ’a proper doctor’ when he gained his PhD by thesis. Just after his 79th birthday Robin was awarded the Rose Prize for his 8,000-word essay “GP Education in Northern Ireland 1920 -1990 - A Study of the Use and Misuse of Power” . The Rose Prize is a joint venture of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London and the Royal College of General  Practitioners to promote knowledge of interest in the history of general practice. For a good read turn to:-

Vol 75(2) page 141 on


In 2007 he was elected as a Senior Fellow  of the new  Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (UK).


Robin’s long record of good health was spoiled by the diagnosis of bowel cancer that had to be excised and treated from January 1996 – with an excellent result. But from then on he exhibited signs of a slowly progressive neurological disorder labelled “Idiopathic Axonal Neuropathy”, which caused weakness in the leg muscles with a slow shuffling gait. Robin remembered his Uncle Don quoting ‘the greatest anticlimax in the Old Testament’, and recognized its relevance -  "The rest of all the acts of Asa, and all his might, and all that he did, and the cities which he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Nevertheless in the time of his old age he was diseased in his feet." (1st Kings Chap 15 verse 23)