Dr Betty retires to next busy chapter

Dr Betty Marks has just retired after 63 years of service to the community. Photo: Nolan Verheij-Full / Tweed Daily News
Dr Betty Marks has just retired after 63 years of service to the community. Photo: Nolan Verheij-Full / Tweed Daily News Nolan Verheij-full

WHETHER it was gentle words on a long night when a loved one had taken a turn for the worst, or her guiding hands at the birth of a child, any time of the hour "Dr Betty" was on call.

Dr Betty Marks OAM tended to thousands of patients, up to four generations, until she retired two weeks ago from Queen Street Medical Centre, having given 66 years of her life to medicine.

For some patients, asking for the most resonating memory of Dr Betty prompted abated tears, and for all a sincere testimony to her enduring care, steady hand and sharp wit.

In the last two weeks dozens of bouquets and patients have arrived at Queen St to farewell Dr Marks.

One local South Sea Islander thanked the 90-year-old for caring for three generations of their family.

"And they snuggled me, and squashed me to death, and called me 'darling'," said Dr Marks.

"People have been very grateful. But you get back what you give, don't you?

"I feel like I've always given back what I've given in this life."

Dr Marks said she feels "very gratified", but admitted she didn't quite understand all the fuss that's been made of her retirement."No I can't. But I'm trying really," she laughed.

"When I was young I did one term on medical ethics and in those days it was absolutely forbidden to talk to anyone about yourself or to advertise yourself in any way.

"I'm only doing all this now because I've retired."

It was her husband, Dr James (Jim) Marks, the son of Tweed Shire's first president, who brought Dr Marks to Tweed Heads in 1954 after they were married.

By then she was working as assistant medical superintendent at Prince Alfred Hospital.

It's no surprise the change was unstimulating at first.

"I got burnt on the beach, played bridge with ancient ladies like myself, in hats and white gloves and purses, and criticised the pavlova we went and had the day before at somebody's place. I was extremely bored," said Dr Marks.

Before long Dr Marks was driving daily to Murwillumbah for shifts at a general practice on Wharf St and at the Murwillumbah Hospital.

"It was a 100-bed hospital and we usually had 110 people in it; in the corridors and on the verandas."

One night Dr Marks was called to Bent St at 10 o'clock to an elderly patient vomiting blood.

"In those days we had to bleed our donors from lists of our own. Of all things, this lady was O-negative, the rarest of the bloods.

"Mr Albury Budd of Budd's Pharmacy in town, was always our first call for O-negative."

By 5am Dr Marks had administered 20 units of serum and blood, and the patients was at "death's door".

"I told her husband we couldn't operate because no one could do a gastrectomy, but she'll need it, and must go somewhere else."

With one unit of blood left Dr Marks readied an ambulance and called the Brisbane Mater, run under the bankrupt Queensland Government.

"The Hospital said 'you know Doctor, it's the rule that we can't take NSW patients who aren't paying'.

"And I said, well, thanks for nothing, and I slammed down the phone and sent them off anyway.

"When they arrived I phoned and said 'I dare you to send her back, every newspaper around the country will hear about it'.

"The patient was back three weeks later and lived another 15 years."

Dr Marks was one of six doctors to take turns at the hospital, between them delivering 650 babies a year until her retirement from the hospital in 1989. Dr Marks continued at Queen St and the Murwillumbah nursing home until her full retirement.

Reflecting on her life, Dr Marks said she was honoured to have her career.

"The whole of life is daunting; it can be extremely sad and difficult.

"There are many wonderful people who get cancers, who get terrible pains and indignities.

"But if you can help in any way possible, as a friend and as a doctor, and that's mostly what GPs are, I think, it is a great privilege.

"I'm honoured to have been able to help people the way I have."

Dr Marks has been awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship by Rotary, an Order of Australia Medal, an Australian Centennial Medal, a BEX Award, and twice a Women's Award from the Tweed Shire Council.

In her retirement, Dr Marks hopes to volunteer on one of the boards she was a patron of including East Murwillumbah School, Tweed Hockey Club, Murwillumbah Garden Club and Murwillumbah Hospital Auxiliary.

Topics:  murwillumbah

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