Dr Josef Kuriacose: Doctor, scholar, golfer and 'absolute gentleman'
JOSEF Kuriacose was "a doctor, a scholar, a teacher, a bridge player, a poet, a golfer – but most importantly, he was kind to everyone he met".
Born in Kerala on the Malabar Coast in south-west India, the much-loved Co Derry GP and hospital physician began caring for others from an early age.
His mother died when he was very young and he took responsibility for his younger siblings Liz, Ann and Thomas, who would go on to be a priest and officiate at his funeral.
Blessed with a excellent memory, Josef was a talented student and attended the University of Madras, where he also excelled at cricket and football.
He had an offer of a university post in America but decided to first spend some time in Ireland, gaining work experience at Craigavon Area Hospital.
There he met Mary McKinley, a nurse from Warrenpoint, and he fell in love with both her and the country.
They settled outside Magherafelt and had two children, Adam and Richard.
Josef would suffer the tragic loss of Mary at the age of just 40 but he dedicated himself to raising his boys alone, alongside serving the community as a trusted doctor.
He trained as a GP in Stewartstown, where he was also introduced to the game of golf, but spent most of his career in Moneymore where he became the senior partner and built a new health centre.
Described as an "absolute gentleman", people meeting him were instantly put at ease by his infectious smile and enthusiastic personality.
His dedication to the job was legendary, frequently going the extra mile to help patients or other doctors with difficult cases.
He shared the frustration of patients and fellow professionals with the huge pressures on the system and was not afraid to speak out on their behalf, once describing how he found himself travelling in atrocious weather at 2am on Christmas Eve to the home of a woman who could not get an operation.
Not content with making a difference in his capacity as a GP, Dr Josef also had an impact on hundreds of lives as a locum consultant physician at the Mid Ulster Hospital, sometimes working round the clock to combine both roles.
A passionate advocate of the power of science to improve lives, at the start of the Covid pandemic he was also among the first volunteers for vaccine trials.
In his limited free time Dr Josef greatly enjoyed golf, winning many tournaments and proudly serving as captain of the Killymoon club in 2020 and 2021.
It said he was a "friend to everyone" and had lived "a full and warm life, filled with helping others".
He was also a very successful bridge player and read widely. He was ravenous for knowledge, keeping up to speed with developments in medicine, astrophysics and all the sciences, as well as enjoying literature and poetry
In 2012, Dr Josef again found happiness by marrying Belfast doctor Sinead Fitzpatrick. They emigrated to Tasmania in 2016 but he returned to Ireland most summers to work and renew old friendships, and spent 15 months in Co Derry during the recent lockdowns.
His health gradually deteriorated in recent months and he died peacefully on Good Friday due to pulmonary fibrosis. He was 71.
In a moving online tribute, his sons said he was an amazing father who was full of love and "gave us everything we wanted, while still giving the guidance to make our own way and hopefully bring some small part of him with us".
They also recalled his "gentle nature, his universal kindness, his boistourous laugh, his smile as he entered a room with a bottle of wine in hand, his infinite wisdom, his hugs, his honesty, his complete willingness to give and give without asking for anything in return, only that you know he cared".
"Every person who had the fortune of meeting him has been made better for it. There is no-one else like him, there will be no-one else like him."
While his funeral was celebrated in Tasmania, a memorial service was arranged with his ashes last night in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Magherafelt.
Mementoes were presented reflecting Dr Josef's interests, including his stethoscope, a pack of cards and his golf jumper.
Family and friends also wore bright clothes to reflect his colourful personality and celebrate a life truly well lived.
Dr Josef Kuriacose is survived by his wife Sinead, sons Adam and Richard, siblings Liz, Thomas and Anne, and family circle.