The Kaikohe Rotary Club did a successful job of keeping a secret in the weeks before Saturday night.

The subject of the secrecy was the town's much-loved and respected GP Dr Roger Milner, who was named a Paul Harris Fellow at a function at the RSA.

Dr Milner said he was glad he had dressed in a suit.

"I was expecting to go to McDonald's," he said.


An equally unexpected and pleasurable surprise was the presence of his children, who grew up in Kaikohe but have now moved away, and who were smuggled into the RSA by conspirators.

The evening was billed as a tribute to Kaikohe's volunteers - St John, fire brigade, Kohe Whata Marae, the Masonic Lodge, along with the police and staff at the medical centre - but Rotary president Glenis Sutherland confessed that there was one special person to be feted.

Dr Milner was born in Twickenham, London, on July 6, 1939, said MC Frank Leadley, but he "became Welsh" before he became a Kiwi, his sojourn in that country, as a small town GP, endowing him with a passionate but as yet unfulfilled belief in the ability of the Welsh to beat the All Blacks.

Mr Leadley went further back than that though.

The child who decided very early in his life that he would be a doctor took up boxing at the age of 8, he said, and sang in the church choir, "so he could beat people up on Saturday and pray for forgiveness on Sunday".

His boxing continued (mixed with rugby) at boarding school, university and the Middlesex Hospital School of Medicine, enabling him to beat people up on Saturday and heal their wounds on Monday.

Other interests developed - music, painting, singing and ornithology, the latter indulged in the course of holidays on windswept islands. He qualified in 1963, married a year later and raised four children. In 1975 he and his family arrived in Kaikohe.

There he had become a highly respected and involved member of the community, not least as the police surgeon, the divisional surgeon for St John, a member of the Masonic Lodge and builder of the town's new health centre.


Senior Sergeant Ricky Whiu said Dr Milner's work as the local pathologist had been hugely appreciated, enabling loved ones to be returned to their whanau in a timely fashion.

And, in reference to Saturday night's other big attraction, the Super 15 final, he noted that only a man of Dr Milner's mana could have kept so many people away from the 7.30 kick-off.

Kaikohe's Chief Fire Officer, Bill Hutchinson, also paid a warm tribute to a man who had provided brigade members' medicals for 37 years, but to his knowledge had never needed to provide his medical skills to an injured firefighter.

He was one of very few non-firefighters in New Zealand to have received the United Fire Brigades' Association's medal (in 1997).

"When he hangs up his stethoscope it really will be the end of an era," Mr Hutchinson said.

His role within St John had been equally important and appreciated. Area committee chairman Peter Macauley said he had served as the divisional surgeon and medical officer for 30 years or more. He was also a valued member of the area committee, and had recently launched Kaikohe's Heart Safe programme. "He has enthusiastically taken the chairmanship of that programme, having chaired the sub-committee that set it up," he added.

"He has made an extremely valuable contribution to St John and to the wellbeing of this community."

Colleague Dr Shane Cross, said it was unfortunate that Dr Milner had become a Welshman before he arrived in Kaikohe, as a result of which his notes were peppered with Gaelic expressions that no one could understand. The combination of practices in the town had been seamless, however.

"Roger is a humble man who works quietly behind the scenes," Dr Cross said, "and that is not always recognised. I am proud to call him a colleague and a friend."

Past District Governor's representative Chris Burrows said Paul Harris Fellowships were awarded rarely, and only to those who had demonstrated the highest ideals of Rotary in their personal and professional lives. Dr Milner, who had given the community exceptional service, met that criterion, he said.

"This is one of Rotary's highest honours, usually awarded to Rotarians but sometimes to people outside Rotary, to people who have given exceptional service to their community and to their profession."

Dr Milner's children were also given the chance to speak, his oldest, Helen, recalling her father's passion, capacity to give and his need to contribute.

He was a workaholic, and she and her siblings well remembered getting up late at night, finding him returning from a call or tending to his paperwork, and enjoying a rare opportunity to spend time with him.

"I treasured those times," she said. "I am pleased to be your daughter, and your family is extremely proud of you."