Cumbernauld doctor who served New Zealand with distinction has died

Doctor Stewart Jessamine emigrated to New Zealand in 1987 and enjoyed a long career with the Ministry of Health in his adopted homeland
Doctor Stewart Jessamine emigrated to New Zealand in 1987 and enjoyed a long career with the Ministry of Health in his adopted homeland

Cumbernauld doctor Stewart Jessamine, who served the Ministry of Health in New Zealand for over 25 years, died suddenly last month at the age of 60.

The former Greenfaulds High pupil studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, before emigrating to New Zealand in 1987 where he began working as a GP.

While attending a GP conference in the early 1990s he heard an appeal for GPs to consider switching from “poachers” to “game-keepers” and so, in 1993, he joined the Ministry of Health,

The Therapeutics Section he joined would become Medsafe, responsible for medicine regulation, and Stewart went from providing resources and liaising with GPs to managing the unit.

In subsequent roles, he moved higher in the ministry eventually becoming director of Protection, Regulation and Assurance.

Instrumental in improving the access to medicines for the public, for 21 years he chaired a ministerial committee that oversaw the reclassification of many medicines, removing, where appropriate, the need to see a doctor or pharmacist first.

Stewart was also active in the New Zealand committee for the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, being awarded distinguished fellowship of the college.

Representing New Zealand on the World Health Organisation’s executive board for three years Stewart was particularly proud with his team’s success in getting agreement from the member countries to adopt a global resolution to address rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

It was during his time in Medsafe that he became a commonly heard voice in the media, providing a reassuring and no-nonsense response to many of the issues affecting medicines in this country.

Stewart left the Ministry of Health at the end of last year and had recently took up a position at Pharmac.

Despite his hefty workload Stewart loved to laugh and colleagues recalled his wit and humour and his unfailingly kind to those he worked with.

State Services commissioner Peter Hughes, who worked with Stewart in the mid 90s, described him as ‘pragmatic, strategic, and hard-working’, and someone who ‘put New Zealanders at the heart of his work’.

Stewart is survived by his wife Siew, daughter Kathryn, mum Joan and brother Murray.

Joan and Murray made the trip to New Zealand for the funeral which took place at Old St Paul’s in Wellington attended by over 50 of Stewart’s colleagues and friends from the Ministry of Health and members of Siew’s family from Malaysia.

His family say Stewart was extremely proud to serve his adopted country in the way he did. They described a highly respected man who loved his job and who never once complained about the demands of his work.

Joan said: “It is with deep regret and sadness to inform my friends, immediate family and neighbours of the death of my son Dr Stewart Jessamine.

“My other son Murray was with me in New Zealand and he spoke highly of his big brother and how they had grew up in Cumbernauld with memories of their schools days and Boys’ Brigade.

“God bless you Stewart, you will always be in our hearts.”