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Dr Tom Mulholland, a celebrity physician and beloved Kiwi campaigner for physical and mental health, died suddenly at the weekend.
Known affectionately as Dr Tom, the medical practitioner had helped hundreds of thousands of people globally over the past three decades.
His death has been referred to the coroner and is being investigated as a suspected suicide.
Mulholland hosted his own TV and radio shows, wrote two best-selling books and was a professional speaker for the likes of Google, Microsoft and Hilton.
He worked as an emergency doctor for 25 years and was also an honorary lecturer in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland.
A source confirmed to the Herald that Mulholland “passed away suddenly” on Sunday.
Family, friends and colleagues were rallying together and funeral preparations were under way.
“It is very, very raw. It’s taken everyone by surprise,” the source said.
“It is very challenging at the moment and we’re just trying to rally together.”
Broadcaster Brook Howard-Smith paid tribute to Mulholland on Facebook, saying he would always be a “hero”.
“We’ve lost one of our best and brightest stars, a tower of purpose who had so many of the necessary tools at his fingertips. He literally wrote books about mental health and wellbeing. He saved lives for a job. People, men, we are still not talking enough. We are still imagining we are alone,” Howard-Smith said.
“Dr Tom Mulholland will always be a hero of mine and I’m guessing for the thousands who he inspired and helped, thousands whose lives he changed forever. An incredible life, and in the end the most important lesson. Whatever you are feeling, no matter how alone you are I guarantee others are feeling the same. Please reach out.
“For now, buddy, just know we are so bloody proud of the amazing life you lived and of you. The world is going to miss the hell out of you.”
Fellow doctor Sam Hazledine has also paid tribute.
“Goodbye Tom... I’m sad. I’m confused. And to be honest, I’m a bit angry. He was Tom to me, but to the world he was Dr Tom Mulholland, ‘The Attitude Doctor’,” Hazledine said.
“Tom was the definition of ‘larger than life.’ With a gregarious personality and a huge heart, Tom positively impacted the life of anyone he encountered.
“He had a varied career, from emergency physician, to establishing medical clinics, to founding a tech company to help people better understand themselves to make healthier life choices.
“He survived a tsunami, and he literally wrote the book on health thinking.
“He was loved by many, including his fiancé and children. He was always on a mission.
“But in the end, I guess that wasn’t enough. He had demons, as we all do, and I guess two days ago they got too much for him. Whether that was an intense spur-of-the-moment thing, or a longer-term thing, I don’t know. But I wish I did know. I wish I’d been a better friend and had pried under that ebullient exterior deeper.”
Hazledine wrote that he’d spoken with Mulholland just a couple of weeks ago.
“He sounded good and we were planning to get together soon. I did ask him how he was, and he gave no indication that he was struggling. Perhaps, ‘how are you?’ isn’t enough. Perhaps we need to ask those we love, ‘how are you, really?’
“I’ll miss that booming voice answering the phone with an enthusiastic, ‘Dr Sam!’ I don’t understand why he’s gone, but I hope that wherever he is that he’s found peace. Goodbye Tom. Love you mate.”
Listen to The Country’s Jamie Mackay interview The Resilient Farmer, Doug Avery, about his friend Dr Tom Mulholland:
University of Auckland Emeritus Professor of Psychological Medicine Robert Kydd recalled his friend Tom as a man of energy and “bounce”, always a passionate and tireless worker for mental health.
“He was particularly innovative in the ways he tried to deliver services. He did a lot of work in rural areas, driving his mental health ‘ambulance’ and talking to farmers about how it was important to look after the ‘top paddock’ - their mental health.
“His stand-up routines were also delivered in a way that made people reflect on their mental health challenges.
“When working in ED he told me he specialised in working with those who were intoxicated as he could speak ‘drunks’ language’ back to them.
“Personally he was warm, friendly and caring. I will miss his spontaneous phone calls, wanting to discuss a new idea. He will be missed.”
Te Whatu Ora Auckland group director of operations Dr Mike Shepherd said: “We are all saddened to hear of Tom’s passing and would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to his whānau at this difficult time.”
Mulholland’s website - Dr. Tom On A Mission - says that during his time working in emergency departments, he recognised that many patients visiting hospitals had preventable illnesses.
“Whilst he could often prolong their lives by a few years, months or sometimes only weeks, he realised most of the damage had already been done. With this knowledge and a passion to help people, Dr Tom set out to become the ambulance at the top of the cliff, rather than the bottom.
“Dr Tom has since been on the road for the last eight years, testing thousands [of] Kiwis in the back of his old Chevy ambulance that his team have transformed into a pop-up medical clinic.”
He left school in 1979 to join the New Zealand Forest Service and become a forester, the website says.
He discovered his passion was helping people, so completed a first-class honours degree in molecular genetics at the University of Canterbury, then graduated with a medical degree from the University of Otago in 1989.
“His love of surfing and the mountains took him to Taranaki where he was an orthopaedic and general surgical registrar, gained a diploma in sports medicine, started his own general practice and founded Taranaki’s first accident and medical clinic, White Cross. He also started Doctor Global and was the first in the world to do online consultations last century, won numerous business awards and featured on 60 Minutes twice.”
Lane Nichols is a senior journalist and deputy head of news based in Auckland. Before joining the Herald in 2012, he spent a decade at Wellington’s Dominion Post and Nelson Mail.