Tributes paid to Wolverhampton doctor and hospice pioneer, 93

Tributes have been paid to a retired doctor who helped found Compton Hospice and who has died at the age of 93.

Dr Fraser Dukes receiving his distinguished service award from Rotary president of Great Britain and Ireland, Eve Conway
Dr Fraser Dukes receiving his distinguished service award from Rotary president of Great Britain and Ireland, Eve Conway

Dr Fraser Dukes was found dead following a fire at his home in the Lytton Avenue, in the Penn area of Wolverhampton on May 6, the day after his 93rd birthday.

He served as a GP, with surgeries in both Penn and Wombourne, and was well-known for his work with the Rotary Club of Wolverhampton.

Daughter Cathey Groombridge, who also became a doctor, described her father as much-loved and respected, saying: "He was a pretty amazing person, he did so much with his life, and he did it all for the right reasons."

Alexander Fraser Dukes was born in Willenhall in 1927, and attended Queen Mary Grammar School in Walsall.

He played for the school rugby team and was also an accomplished musician with his own jazz band.

After graduating in medicine at Birmingham University in 1950, he was called up for National Service.

He was due to have been deployed in Korea, but an error in military records resulted in a last-minute posting at Copthorne Barracks in Shrewsbury, where he served as medical officer.

Having declined the offer of a regular posting in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he served for 12 years in the Herefordshire Light Infantry Regiment of the Territorial Army, rising to the rank of major.

Fraser Dukes with Barnard James of the Rotary Club of Wolverhampton in 2017

He married childhood sweetheart Beryl in 1953, after first meeting her at a school dance, and the couple remained together until Beryl's death in 2015.

Their first child, William Frazer, was born in 1956, and died last year following a period of illness. He was followed by Ian Timothy in 1958 and Catherine Sarah in 1960.

Both Tim and Cathey followed in their father's footsteps by entering the medical profession, Tim becoming a GP and Cathey a psychiatrist.

Dr Groombridge recalls Cornish holidays and canal boating as regular features of their childhood, adding that her father was also a skilled cook and gardener.

He became a GP in 1955 and continued in practice until his retirement in 1992.

Dr Groombridge said: "His ability to listen and communicate made him a grand master of the art of family medicine and he continued in this professional role, as a much-loved and well-respected family doctor until retirement."

In the early 1960s Dr Dukes was chairman of the committee that successfully raised funds for the Medical Institute at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital, which now houses the postgraduate centre.

He was also medical director of the Wolverhampton out-of-hours GP service from the late 1960s until 1988.

His involvement in the Rotary club came as the result of having alteration work to to his Wombourne surgery in 1966.

At this time, he became friendly with Wolverhampton architect, the late Guy Wones, who asked him if he would like to ‘have lunch with him’.

This turned out to be a meeting of the Rotary Club of Wolverhampton, and Dr Dukes became a Rotarian later that year.

Driving force

He played a significant role on the Rotary committee established in 1979 for the establishment of Compton Hospice as a sanctuary for patients with incurable conditions.

Dr Groombridge said her father's first-hand knowledge of the physical, emotional and psychological needs of these patients and their families proved to be a vital driving force.

She said: "Considerable funding was needed and Fraser’s gentle but passionate and informed approach was a big factor in the success of the drive to acquire the buildings and open the hospice, particularly in bringing all the local Rotary clubs together in support."

The first patient was admitted in February 1982, and the hospice was officially opened by the Duchess of Kent in December of that year. It now has 260 staff and more than 600 volunteers.

Dr Dukes was also involved in a public meeting in 1984 that led to the establishment of the Wolverhampton Multiple Sclerosis Centre.

He told the meeting that a new form of treatment, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, represented a breakthrough in the relief of suffering associated with MS.

The centre, which opened in 1986, continues to provide therapy and oxygen tank treatment for an average of 150 patients every week.

He was president of the Rotary club of Wolverhampton in 1983/84, before becoming district governor in 1996/97 and a member of the Rotary in Great Britain national foundation committee in 1997/98.

In 1986 he was appointed chairman of Rotary District 1210 polio plus committee, a post he held for the rest of his life.

Dr Fraser Dukes receiving his Rotary Service Above Self award

Dr Groombridge said: "He continued to deliver talks and seminars on the Rotary campaign to eliminate the scourge of polio from the world, with the result that District 1210 has donated over $700,000 to that cause.

His tireless devotion to eradicating polio led to him receiving the Rotary movement's highest honour, the Rotary International Service Above Self Award, in April 2014. A maximum of only 150 such awards are made worldwide each year.

This was followed in 2016 by the Rotary Foundation’s Distinguished Service Above Self Award.

Dr Groombridge said her father had led a full and active life up until his death.

"He had been really well, on his birthday the day before, we had a Zoom meeting, and he was in fine form," she said.

"The sadness of countless numbers of people – his family, former patients, friends and his many Rotarian colleagues across the world – at the loss of this kind, knowledgeable and truly gentle man is keenly felt and will last for many years."

A private family funeral, in line with coronavirus restrictions, will be held at Telford Crematorium on June 8. Dr Groombridge said the family planned to hold a larger celebration of his life later in the year.

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