Retiring Glenarm GP reflects on half a century of change

Dr. Benny Glover says he has advised many people over the years about preparing for retirement, but admits that it is a strange feeling contemplating his own retirement now that it is on the horizon.

Retiring Glenarm GP Benny Glover

As he prepares to quietly close the door of the medical practice he has run in Glenarm for the past half century, he says he will miss the interaction with his patients.

“There will be a big hole in my life, working here has been such a big part of my life,” he says.

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There will be more time for his other interests; woodworking, gardening, enjoying the landscape of his wife Rosarie’s native Donegal where they have a cottage, and the odd game of golf.

But he will miss the surgery and the daily contact with the people of what has become his adopted village.

The popular Glenarm GP will close his surgery on the last day of the month and for everyone concerned it will signal the end of an era in the coastal village.

Dr. Glover came to Glenarm as a 28 year old, recently-qualified doctor who had grown up in the city.

He retires as a household name in Glenarm and the coastal community, someone who has given much longer service than might have been anticipated back in 1966 when he received a phone call offering him the opportunity of taking up practice in Glenarm.

He was working with Dr. Cosgrove in Larne at the time and recalls the phone call.

Offered the practice on the coast, he was given until the next day to make his decision, which was to become Glenarm’s GP.

“There were only two rooms and no phone in the surgery, so my wife had to take the phone calls and relay the messages. The electricity supply was not terribly reliable and we had two Aladdin Lamps, one for the house and one for the surgery in case we needed them. I still have them,” he says.

His wife Rosarie is a native of County Donegal and was a nurse training in the Mater hospital in Belfast she first met her future husband.

The oldest child of a family of 13, the Belfast man was set on a career course by his father, “Father said you are the eldest and you need to give an example,” he says, and this inspired him to do well at school and then to move on to Queen’s University and six years of study for the medical profession.

There was also time for sport and he is proud to have captained the QUB 1st soccer team in the early 1960s when they played other Irish university teams.

When he qualified Dr. Glover got his first job - in the Moyle Hospital as a Houseman for a year. He took another position away from the town after that, but was back to work with Dr. Cosgrove in Larne after a year.

And it was at that point that the possibility of working in the practice in Glenarm came up.

There were things to be weighed up, not least the cost of the house connected to the practice, but at the end, he says simply “We came, and stayed. It was a big house and there was no furniture but we got it furnished gradually,”

He and his wife brought their children up in Glenarm and integrated into the local community. They soon found, however, that Glenarm could be quite isolated. Dr. Glover recalls that in February 1967 the coast road was closed for restoration work and then part of it was washed away again after it opened.

By 1969, an improvements committee had been established in the village and the newly arrived doctor would become one of its leading lights over the years. He would continue his involvement until the 1980s, when he felt it was time to step aside and allow others to move things forward.

It is fair to say that most aspects of village life over the years have involved his input.

He has witnessed considerable changes in Glenarm over the decades.

“The only television reception we had was from Scotland and we were getting the news from there when the troubles were at their height here, so it shielded us a little from what was going on elsewhere,” he says.

“Glenarm had five pubs, a hotel, a chemist’s, a garage, two or three clothes shops. There were two schools and now unfortunately there is only one. But village life has changed everywhere. It is still a closely-knit village, however, and nice to live in,” he adds.

There have been a lot of changes also in the medical profession.

“Medicine has changed so much. We have more tests now available to us and more drugs available. People seem to be much more dependent on doctors and medicine and to a certain extent I think they are more dependent than they would have been in the past,” he reflects.

At the start of his career in Glenarm he would have been involved with maternity care; the closure of the maternity unit at the Moyle Hospital was, he says, “a big loss”. The close relationship in the local area between the doctors and families was impacted by that decision and would not recover, as mums to be were sent to Antrim and that very local connection was lost.

“Years ago everything came to the door, from fishermen with fishing hooks in their eye to people injured in car accidents,” Dr. Glover reflects.

He recalls that there were even fishermen who suffered from asthma and picked their spot to fish close to the doctor’s practice in case they needed his assistance.

One of the positive developments he was pleased to be a part of was when the practice operated as a fundholding practice with Dr. Brian Dunn in Larne.

That allowed the GPs to have their own budget and they were able to get access to consultants and operations for their patients in a way which is not possible within the health service today.

One major change has been an increase in bureaucracy, which Dr. Glover does not feel is a positive development and this discourages GPs from operating a smaller practice as the amount of paperwork is the same as for a much larger operation – but with less staff and more stress.

As he prepares to close his practice he looks back with a quiet pride on 50 years of service to the local community.

All of it would not have been possible without a dedicated team supporting the practice, which provided three open surgeries per day as well as home visits. He says he has been well supported by his full time practice manager, two part-time receptionists and part-time practice nurse.

“We were able to provide a good service and if it has worked it is because we all worked together,” he says.

“It is only when you start to look back that you realise the effect you have had on people and how you have made an impression on them. I never thought about that when I was doing my job, I just tried to do my best for them,” he says.

“I have had a very fulfilling happy life in Glenarm and my patients have been very kind and supportive over the years. I looked after them, but they looked after me too,” the retiring GP added.