Former hospital consultant was an ardent gardener and banjo player

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A former consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Mid-Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt has died.

Henry Chance Aitken was born on December 28, 1939, in Sheffield, the youngest child of Henry and Alice Aitken. He died peacefully at his Magherafelt home on November 27.

He is survived by his wife, Ginny; his four children: Ian, Lynne, John and Clare; and ten grandchildren: Danny, Lara, Tiana, Tommy, Suzanne, Luke, Jenna, Joshua, Jess and Lucy.

Henry was very proud of his Yorkshire roots - even though he only lived there for three months, and there was much romantic banter between him and Ginny who was a Lancashire lass... a 20th century War of the Roses, with a happy outcome.

His father was transferred to Palace Barracks in Holywood as an army surgeon during the Second World War before being transferred to India and Burma for the duration of the war with another year on top.

Henry didn’t see his father for six years and he always recalled with emotion the dramatic moment, at the age of six, when his father stepped off the train to be reunited with his family. Subsequently, the family settled in Holywood.

Henry followed his older brother John and older sister Jennifer into Sullivan Upper School. Most mornings he jumped over the hedge between his garden and the school grounds, just in time for the assembly bell. And most evenings, he and his sister would take their two horses for long rides over the Holywood hills,

Henry riding Snowy and Jennifer riding Warwick. Daisy the donkey was never far behind, though no-one really ever knew who actually owned her. Happy days.

Henry was a keen rugby player, a second row forward, graduating straight from Medallion to the 1st XV team, later playing for Holywood Town and County Down. At school, however, he was perhaps best known for the fudge he used to make and supply to his team mates at half time. His fudge was also sold during break to pupils for a penny a piece with such financial success that the school management decided that they too should cash in by providing a school tuck shop. He was appointed as a prefect in his final year at school, a huge honour in those days.

Henry was once asked what did he wish for in life and he said, “I want to be a surgeon, own a yacht, and settle down with a lovely wife and family.”

His first wish was granted. Henry attended Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in 1967 as a doctor. He progressed through the ranks in the specialty of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, working as a junior tutor in the Royal Maternity Hospital, moving on to Lagan Valley Hospital as a Senior House Officer, then as Registrar in the Route Hospital Ballymoney and the Waveney Hospital Ballymena, and as Senior Tutor the Ulster Hospital Dundonald.

He was finally appointed as Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the Mid Ulster Hospital Magherafelt in 1978.

He was a single-handed consultant for his first ten years in the post and he was one of the pioneers of key-hole gynaecological surgery. He was best known by patients for his “invisible mending”, and his surgeon colleagues valued his expertise in all areas of surgery, not just his specialty. He got on well with the nursing staff who described him recently as “a true professional in his manner”.

And his nephew Peter Aitken, now a Consultant Psychiatrist in Devon, and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, reminisced about his Uncle Henry. These are his words: “In my 20s a great medical role model who loaned me the huge sum of £80 to enjoy my student elective with him at the Mid-Ulster Hospital on the understanding I repay it to someone else. The debt was repaid to Andrew Aitken from SA to go to a Calcutta Cup game when he first came to London. Throughout he was always good fun and a great uncle to have.”

So Henry got his first wish by becoming an eminent surgeon, gaining his Fellowship from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and running a highly successful unit in Mid Ulster Hospital until he retired in 1997. He is fondly remembered to this day in the Mid-Ulster area – not surprising when you consider that he was responsible for the safe delivery of some 33,000 babies!

What about his second wish? A yacht? He was a keen sailor, owning three yachts, first 16 feet, 2nd 34 feet and lastly 35 feet. He raced against other local yachtsmen at Ballyronan for a number of years, before Henry and Ginny invested in a river cruiser in France, named Hengin II, a hybrid name made up of Hen, short for Henry, and Gin, short for Ginny! But was there a Hengin I? Indeed there was, in the form of a 1948 black Ford 8, costing £60, with three gears and mobile flooring which rose alarmingly when the car accelerated. This car took Henry and Ginny in their university days, the length and breadth of Scotland and England right down to Land’s End and back, and when they came home, the car was sold for a profit of £15.

And Henry’s third wish? To settle down with a lovely wife and family.

Lucky man! His third wish was granted. He met Ginny during their first year at Queen’s University, in 1961, Henry as a medical student and Ginny was an Arts student. They were “an item” right from the start, and years later Ginny said people could have sworn that she was a medical student, for she was always to be seen with the medical crowd.

Henry and Ginny were married in 1965, while he was still a medical student. He used to say he was a “kept man” because his new wife Ginny was the bread-winner as a teacher of English in Methody. Her passion for drama resurfaced during her time in The Rainey and she founded the Rainey Players drama Group in 1980, and Henry was a leading light, not on stage, but behind the scenes of some 15 plays. He designed the varied and innovative stage sets which earned him first place in Bangor Drama Festival.

He was an ardent gardener, transforming almost all by hand a half acre field into a terraced garden with intriguing and beautiful nooks and crannies. It is admired by all who see it, and a lasting legacy to his undying interest in nature.

And finally he loved to play the banjo, and would often strum away in the background at parties which encouraged people to sing along with him. So a good time was had by all.

Multi-talented,yes. He was dearly loved by all who came in contact with him, family, friends, colleagues, patients, fellow thespians and not forgetting his ten cats. He will be sadly missed.