SCOTTISH author Alexander McCall Smith came face to face with his past, and it was a very familiar face greeting him, when he visited Hauora Hokianga's Rawene Hospital.

McCall Smith visited the hospital last week and one of the portraits that greeted him was that of his grandfather, Dr George McCall Smith, who was in practice in Rawene from 1914 and helped set up Rawene Hospital -- and there was an uncanny resemblance between portrait and author.

McCall Smith, and his wife Dr Elizabeth McCall Smith, who had previously visited Hokianga in 1976 when working as a junior doctor in Auckland, were welcomed with a powhiri at Pou Kara Ariki Marae, Hauora Hokianga medical director Clare Ward said. "We were delighted to welcome Alexander, whose father was part of the family who remained in Scotland when his grandfather, Dr George McCall Smith, left for New Zealand. It was a wonderful opportunity to share with him the achievements of his grandfather, and the high esteem with which he is remembered in Hokianga," Ms Ward said.

His grandfather arrived in the Hokianga in 1914 and attempted to set up in practice. However, Dr Smith quickly found that transportation was a problem, and he was unhappy with the state of Hokianga Hospital so set about organising a new facility, which opened in 1928, hailed far and wide as the most modern hospital concept in the country at the time.

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Dr Smith was also responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area in 1941. Cost savings were always part of this system -- in 1955 the whole of the Hokianga scheme (including medical, nursing and pharmaceutical benefits) was costing about 25 shillings a head, while elsewhere in the country pharmaceutical benefits alone were costing over 30 shillings a head. It was this scheme set up by Dr Smith which is the base of Hauora Hokianga today, and seven decades later it still functions along the same lines.

"The arrival of Dr Smith was described as a 'minor bombshell' to strike Hokianga, and in the 34 years that he lived and worked here he became something of a legend. Our integrated model of care evolved from his special medical area and we are indebted to his vision and thinking which are just as relevant today as they were then," Ms Ward said.

The powhiri for McCall Smith was a chance for some of the older people to recall their memories of Dr Smith's time.

Nanette Smith (no relation) had her two babies at Rawene Hospital with Dr Smith, while Hoddie Wright recalled her time working as a nurse aide at the hospital, and Stan Bawden recalled Dr Smith's dedication to his patients and varied medical skills. This was McCall Smith's first visit to Hokianga and the hospital, and he found it a moving experience and felt honoured to be received in traditional Hokianga style at Pou Kara Ariki Marae, and to gain a sense of the beauty and spirit of the surroundings, as well as the measure of his grandfather's legacy to the people of Hokianga. McCall Smith travels extensively in his work as an author, and is in New Zealand for the Auckland International Writers and Readers Festival where he spoke as one of the world's most successful contemporary authors. His works include the hugely popular No1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the 44 Scotland Street novels, the Sunday Philosophy Club series and the new Corduroy Mansions novels. McCall Smith is described as hilarious, engaging and entertaining, and "a deft observer of the human condition".

McCall Smith is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and more than 30 books for children. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007. He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.