Goodbye to a local legend: Tributes to Deddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’Donnell

In a tribute to a remarkable man, the family of Dr Hugh O’Donnell have put together this obituary. Given his popularity, we wanted to print it in full - so here it is:
Deddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’DonnellDeddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’Donnell
Deddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’Donnell

Family's tribute to Dr Hugh O’Donnell

Dr Hugh O’Donnell (retired General Practitioner and senior partner of the Deddington Health Centre, Oxfordshire) died of a non-cirrhotic liver cancer at Katherine House Hospice Adderbury Saturday June 11 - the day before his 79th birthday. He died peacefully with his children at his bedside.

Pillar of the community, great friend, family man and local legend are terms Hugh O’Donnell vividly embodied.

Deddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’DonnellDeddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’Donnell
Deddington's much-loved Dr Hugh O’Donnell

He is fondly remembered by thousands of patients of his rural North Oxfordshire practice who all benefited from his exceptional ‘bedside manner’. Hugh had a keen clinical mind; this combined with his compassionate nature means that many patients, friends and family now live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives.

Many remember when talking to ‘Dr Hugh’, one felt like the most important person to him at that moment in time, which you probably were. His presence was palpable. His care was all enveloping. In snowy conditions 'Dr Hugh' would load paving slabs into his MK III Gilbern Invader to help him navigate the slippery farm tracks into patients' homes. He would gracefully accept small punnet of Christmas almonds from gummy octogenarians who - unable to bite - had already removed the sugar coating for him. He answered night time calls from patients automatically in his sleep. His 'nose' would twitch at the slightest symptom and persist in treatment being sought, often with life-saving results. This was common. He would insist on police escorts - complete with blues-and-twos - to accompany pregnant mothers into hospitals when needing emergency help. For the bereaved and depressed he would walk for miles and listen for hours to take their pain away. Dr Hugh would hatch, match and dispatch his adored patients and revel in the life-cycles through which he played a caring part. He embodied the oath 'do no harm'. He was there for everyone, all the time.

Driven by an English brain and an Irish heart, Hugh was funny, clever, kind and wise. He had three facets: a formidable intellect of humanitarian bent; an irascible 'prolapsed' Catholic faith; and the empirical mind of scientist. These combined to give Hugh a holistic understanding of what it is to be human. He put this to good use in General Practice, and everywhere he went. His interests were fun, friends, family, food, wine, stories, song, art, laughter, politics, history, children, dogs, gardens, cricket, rugby, shooting and golf. His overwhelming interest was for books. The walls of his home are lined with hundreds of books. He had read them all. Some repeatedly. As a result, Hugh's conversations inevitably encouraged participants to consider the wider picture, to see humanity in all its messy interconnected glory. Yet at the same time he made you feel that your place in this world was more important than it was at the beginning of your conversation.

In short, he made you think big and that you were special. He made thousands of people feel as over a hundred comments on the Deddington community Facebook page attests.

Hugh and Viv O'DonnellHugh and Viv O'Donnell
Hugh and Viv O'Donnell

It was not all one-way traffic though. At the time of writing, the Deddington Church tower is bathed in a light of emerald Irish green as a gesture of love and respect by the community to Dr Hugh O’Donnell. During his lifetime countless smaller gestures of love and respect would appear on his table and doorstep: from whole carcasses of lamb to cases of wine at Christmas. Because he loved, he was loved.

Hugh Francis O’Donnell was born in Hackney during the Second World War, to an Irish father (another doctor) and an English mother. He was the fifth of eight rumbunctious children who were raised in a family Surgery in South-West London. To set the scene, a depressed patient of his father's, Giles the Cartoonist, took Hugh's ferocious Grandmother as the inspiration for Giles' terrifying grandmother character. Hugh was one of those Blitz battered ragamuffins who would feel his grandmother's wrath via the handle of her umbrella. The competition propelled him at school. Enlightenment was not confined to books and whilst attending Wimbledon College, aged 14, he met the love of his life (under the boards of the school stage) in the beautiful Vivien Rich. They were set for life. For each other, to each other. They lived and loved one another for 64 years until death parted the day before his birthday.

At 18 Hugh became a medical student at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Being a London Irish ‘Mary’s man’ helped forge his adult identity. At St Mary’s, he formed life-long friendships, played senior level rugby, studied hard (winning an International Scholarship to New York) and qualified as a doctor. Newly qualified Hugh and Viv married in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1967. Their first child (a son) was born in 1969 and another in 1971. In 1972 the young family moved from London to Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire. Hugh was invited to join Gerry Unsworth’s Health Centre in Deddington where Hugh spent the rest of his working life. The family lived in South Newington for the 1970s during which time two daughters were born in 1974 and 1976. The family moved to Deddington in 1984.

Hugh leaves behind his beloved ‘bride’ Vivien O’Donnell (artist and magistrate), sons: Daniel (teacher) and Matthew (banker). His daughters: Philippa (solicitor) and Harriett (marketeer). Harriett lives in Hugh's beloved Deddington and has cared for Hugh and Viv for the last twenty years. She was their guiding light through covid, and their rock through numerous illnesses.

Hugh is missed by all who knew him. Nobody feels this more than Viv. We trust Deddington to hold her tight.

Dr. Hugh O'Donnell's Funeral will be held at Deddington Church at 2.30pm on Friday July 1.