Jim Gourley

Vet and charity campaigner
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The Independent Online

James Gourley, veterinary surgeon, farmer and charity worker: born Crossbar, Co Down 22 July 1923; married 1950 Ruth Young (two sons, two daughters); died Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire 28 December 2005.

If ever a man lived a full life, it was Jim Gourley. As well as running a busy veterinary practice, he had almost a full-time involvement in community and animal welfare charities and a close involvement in farming.

Gourley came from a rural background from which he inherited a respect for hard work and for his fellow men - and for animals - which influenced his whole life. He was born on his father's farm in Northern Ireland, retaining an active interest in it, and in farming generally. While a student at Edinburgh veterinary school in 1943, he simultaneously ran the farm for six months during his father's illness.

It was to pet animals rather than farm livestock that he devoted his main professional interest, setting up in practice in Ashton-under-Lyne. He began in 1953 a long association with the RSPCA, chairing the local branch for almost 20 years. He organised meetings between animal charities and the police aimed at reducing the stray animal population and encouraging responsible pet ownership. He encouraged local vets to follow his example in providing treatment at reduced charges for those on state benefits. In 1997 the RSPCA gave him the Queen Victoria bronze medal for "long and meritorious service in the cause of animal welfare".

His charitable work took on another dimension after the birth of his first son, who was found to have learning difficulties. Dismayed at the lack of help available to people in that situation, Gourley joined Mencap, an organisation to which he devoted time and energy for 50 years, 43 of those as local branch chairman. In 2003, he received a plaque from Mencap to recognise his dedication to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families. For his work in the wider field of charitable functions, he was appointed a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation in 2002, even though he was not himself a Rotarian.

Such manifold activities did not hamper Gourley's efforts in seeking to improve the practice of veterinary medicine. A founder member of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association in 1958, he was prominent in the affairs of several other veterinary bodies. He was a frequent, and sometimes contentious, speaker at conferences. In 1991 he was a member of a team formed to advise Edinburgh University, on the future of veterinary education. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in recognition of his eminence in services to veterinary science in 1994.

The advent of rheumatoid arthritis in his early fifties restricted his mobility but not his many activities. Although clearly a man of determined character and strong views, Jim Gourley is remembered by colleagues as much for his kindliness and consideration (one cold winter he bought string vests for all his staff) as for his 24-hour devotion to work.

Edward Boden