Alumni Spotlight – Major General Dr Robert Evans
Kerry man, Major General Dr Robert Evans’ life journey has taken him from the village of Annascaul to the gardens of Buckingham Palace. So how did this UCC medical graduate go from tea in the Honan Hostel to tea with the Queen?
Now 96, Robert (Bob) Evans spent 30 years as an anaesthetist in the British army. He began life in the foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains on the Dingle peninsula. His mother was a teacher in the local school and his brother, John left the wilds of Kerry to become a vet in Dublin. Bob, on the other hand, opted to study medicine in Cork.
When he started at UCC, Professor Alfred O’Rahilly was president and the campus was small, with a close-knit community of scholars. The Honan Hostel became his adopted home and he quickly settled into college life. There were eighty students in Bob’s class, and perhaps surprisingly for the time, a third were women. The medicine course had been recently been invigorated by a new member of faculty from the UK, Professor McConnell, who gave lessons in anatomy through Irish. Bob also remembers another popular member of staff, Professor Joseph O’Reilly, who taught chemistry. One of the most active student groups in those days was the Zoological Society, which Bob chaired for a year.
Cars were scarce at the time, and Bob and his friends walked everywhere. However, one of his classmates had a motorbike - a student named Sherling, who was the envy of his peers. He has fond memories of his medical cohorts; “Eddie Mullane, top of the call and Tim Counihan from Killarney who went on to be a prominent cardiologist in Dublin”. Indeed, another of his classmates, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) O’Brien, later became his wife. Betty followed in her father’s footsteps, who was a successful doctor with a practice in Sydney Place, Cork.
When Bob graduated from UCC in 1947 there were limited opportunities in Ireland. The situation in the UK was not much better, due to a lull in the recruitment of medics prior to the establishment of the NHS. It is easy to see then how the British army would seem an attractive option for a young Irish doctor. In fact, he was not the only UCC medical graduate to take this route. Dr Aidan McCarthy of ‘A Doctor’s Sword’ fame, had joined the RAF during the Second World War and Bob later crossed paths with him on his travels.
Bob’s time in the British army was mostly spent in Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore. When he first arrived in Germany in 1950, the aftermath of the war was apparent. As he recounts, “the soldiers were not allowed to shop in German stores and had to live on rations with their families”. His memories of his time in Asia are equally vivid. Bob and his wife took the boat from Liverpool to Hong Kong. After an arduous one-month journey, the couple arrived in Hong Kong where their youngest son was born.
As the years progressed, his dedication to his job and service with the army did not go unnoticed. In 1976 he was made an honorary physician to the Queen and mingled with royalty at many of the garden parties in Buckingham Palace. In 1981 Bob was honoured as a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB). Sadly, his wife passed away 10 years ago. He has four surviving children and his brother John still lives in Dublin. He currently resides in the peaceful surroundings of a care home in Surrey and is as spirited and vivacious as when he was a student. He still attends Mass every Sunday and is a talented cook, renowned for his delicious roasts. He often lies awake at night marvelling at the wonderful experiences he had as an army doctor. Not bad for a boy from Annascaul!