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‘Witty and kind’ Suffolk family doctor dies aged 80

PUBLISHED: 12:47 03 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:47 03 June 2020

Dr Edward Cockayne, who was a GP in Woolpit for 33 years, has died aged 80  Picture: Supplied by family

Dr Edward Cockayne, who was a GP in Woolpit for 33 years, has died aged 80 Picture: Supplied by family

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Influential and respected Suffolk family doctor Edward Cockayne, a GP in Woolpit for many years, has died peacefully at home aged 80.

Dr Cockayne became a GP in Woolpit in 1965   Picture: Supplied by familyDr Cockayne became a GP in Woolpit in 1965 Picture: Supplied by family

Curious and adventurous, Dr Cockayne, who died on May 29, was passionate about his patients, teaching trainee doctors and pioneering ways of attracting GPs into west Suffolk.

Born in Broken Cross, Macclesfield, Cheshire, in 1940, he grew up to love being outdoors, particularly gardening, long-distance walking and fishing. Educated at King’s School, Macclesfield, his parents Ernest and Sarah Cockayne, both of whom had worked in at the local psychiatric hospital, supported his dream to become a doctor. His mother was Irish, and he celebrated his roots there and as a northerner.

He studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital (1958-1963) where he met nurse Elizabeth who became his wife in 1964.

Dr Cockayne worked at four hospitals around London before deciding to become a GP and taking up the post in Woolpit in 1965.

Dr Cockayne pictured with wife Elizabeth in 1964  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILYDr Cockayne pictured with wife Elizabeth in 1964 Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Over the next 33 years he worked tirelessly for his patients, holding to mantras such as ‘listen to the patient’ and ‘run toward your troubles’. He was witty, gruff, kind and dogmatic particularly when puzzling out difficult diagnoses.

Dr Cockayne enjoyed rugby, playing for school, teaching hospital and eventually for Bury St Edmunds. He was a tower of strength to families when 18 members, supporters and players from Bury Rugby Club died in the air crash in March 1974. He was secretary at that time, and much later served as Club President.

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When he retired he did his History of Medicine Diploma. In the next few years, together with Noel Stow, he set up Suffolk Medical History Society. They also co-authored two books, Stutter’s Casebook, a Junior Hospital Doctor 1839-41 published by Suffolk Record Society (St Edmundsbury Press: 2005) and An 18th Century Physician’s Handbook (Mac Slaytor: 2012). He expanded work by Dr David van Zwanenburg to make a comprehensive record of the medical practitioners in previous centuries which is available at www.suffolkmedicalbiographies.com. He wrote for journals about medical history.

Dr Cockayne supported families when 18 members, supporters and players from Bury Rugby Club died in an air crash in March 1974. He was secretary at that time, and much later served as Club President.  Picture: Supplied by familyDr Cockayne supported families when 18 members, supporters and players from Bury Rugby Club died in an air crash in March 1974. He was secretary at that time, and much later served as Club President. Picture: Supplied by family

Dr Cockayne was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago. His health declined swiftly in recent months. He is survived by his beloved wife, Elizabeth and his devoted daughters Sarah, Frances, Claire and Isabel. He was loving grandpa to Laurie, Flora, Daisy, Rosie, Anna, Max, Billy, Tom and Eva.

A memorial will be planned for later this year.

Book written under pseudonym

Before he retired, he wrote a book about his experiences called An Apple a Day under the pseudonym Cornelius Slater (Headline Book Publishing: 1987), which is still handed to new doctors to in west Suffolk as an example of what caring for people in a country practice is like. Far-sighted as he was, he secured funding to build the current health centre in Woolpit, and developed and ran the trainee GP scheme at West Suffolk Hospital.

Crucially in the 80s, when there were too few people wishing to train to be doctors, he created opportunities for overseas doctors from Germany, the Netherlands and South Africa to learn in Suffolk. This ensured that there were enough doctors to serve the community.

A long-distance walker, he completed paths across the world, including the UK, France, Italy and New Zealand. A keen gardener, he grew fruit and vegetables, and kept rare breed sheep.


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