Obituary – Martyn Alan Camburn 

Published by March 11, 2024 9:35 am

Reproduced from the Verterinary Record with their permission

Martyn Alan Camburn

Martyn Alan Camburn, father of three, grandfather of five, and much-respected member of staff at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies from 1972 to 2013, died suddenly and unexpectedly on12 December 2023.

Martyn was born on 6 February 1948 to Elsie and Alan Camburn in Sittingbourne, Kent. His twin brother Ian was born 90 minutes earlier and was thereafter held responsible for his sporting competitiveness.

After eight years in Kent, the family moved to the Wirral, (then) Cheshire, and finally, in 1966, to Papcastle, near Cockermouth in Cumbria; the same year that Martyn began the veterinary science degree course at the University of Liverpool. Studying was not his all-consuming passion. In his second year, Martyn met Sue, a first-year zoology student, beginning a love that was to last 52 years.

He cared particularly and ardently about veterinary undergraduates and worked constantly to make their vet school experiences as enjoyable as possible

Martyn made the most of student life, representing the university at cricket, hockey, squash, tennis – and along with Sue, horse riding. However, 1971, the year of his final examination, required a little more focus and so Sue spent a year in Zambia doing voluntary service abroad. Despite the lure of Leahurst’s tennis courts, Martyn graduated as a veterinary surgeon in 1971.

His first job was with Peter Meaton in Bradford where his interest in anaesthesia began. Peter had worked at the University of Glasgow with Ron Jones, who, as a house surgeon, was committed to the growth of veterinary anaesthesia. Consequently, Martyn began to study for the ‘old’ RCVS diploma in veterinary anaesthesia Part 1, which involved him returning to Liverpool’s small animal hospital for weekly tutorials with David Jagger, Ron Jones and Tony Lewis.

In August 1972, Sue and Martyn married in Norfolk (Sue’s birthplace). Their honeymoon, in the hills south of Aberfeldy, may have been the start of the couple’s ‘ecossophilia’, for in the same year Martyn accepted a position at the Dick Vet, where he worked until his retirement in 2013.

In the early 1970s, veterinary specialists were found in either large (equine and farm animal) or small animal work and specialisation was not (yet) an academic expectation. To teach and conduct both large and small animal anaesthetics was, therefore, almost revolutionary – at least north of the border. Before Martyn’s arrival in Edinburgh, the responsibility for anaesthetising animals had been met by just about anyone who had, by necessity, to work on unconscious animals. Consequently, it would be correct to describe him as the Dick Vet’s first anaesthetist.

Over the following four decades, he continued working in anaesthesia, focusing on clinical service, teaching undergraduates and, in any remaining time, supervising postgraduate research.

Martyn was among the first members of the Association of Veterinary Anaesthetists (AVA) and remained a committed supporter. One of his most memorable contributions was to cycle the 410 miles from East Lothian to Langford to raise funds for the AVA Trust in 1989, its Silver Jubilee year.

In 1990, the anaesthesia ‘service’ at the Dick increased to two anaesthetists, although this had little effect on Martyn’s out-of-hours’ responsibilities because the vet school was still divided over two sites: the small animal hospital being located at Summerhall Place, Edinburgh. In time, the burgeoning number of anaesthesia residents pursuing equine case material was among several reasons why, in 2005, Martyn became committed to the Hospital for Small Animals, where he made a major contribution to teaching, clinical service and student mentorship.

Work did not take precedence over Martyn’s other commitments and interests, the most important of which were his family. Juliette arrived in 1976, followed by Jessica in 1978 and Mark in 1982. (The family’s first labrador, Havoc, also arrived in 1976.) Mark’s arrival coincided with the Camburn family’s relocation to a smallholding between Drem and Athelstaneford where their dream of creating a family home was realised. Having considerable outdoor space, the property also allowed Martyn and Sue to indulge their passion for gardening, which has, over the years, and among other horticultural achievements, seen over 400 trees being planted. Despite this idyllic rural base, the Camburns were keen travellers and enjoyed holidays in the UK and abroad, which typically involved outdoor activities followed by food and wine. Cooking was a large part of the welcoming family home Martyn and Sue created.

Unfortunately, the family was dealt an unwelcome blow in 2017 when Sue was diagnosed with cancer. When she died two years later the loss of his love affected Martyn badly.

The church was important to Martyn and Sue and both were engaged in numerous associated activities. Martyn was an elder at Athelstaneford Church for almost 40 years, and the couple organised many fundraising suppers in the village hall.

Martyn’s considerable artistic skills were also put to useful ecclesiastical purpose: he raised significant amounts of money by holding art sales in the church for Christian Aid and, most recently, for Ukraine. He designed his own Christmas cards and during the Covid-19 lockdown an Easter card that was distributed to every household in the village. There is also a small chapel in a rural part of south-western France which currently contains one, but will eventually hold two stained glass windows designed by Martyn and Sue – a sign of their faith and commitment to the church.

Martyn was physically very active, cycling being his passion. By 2019, when his health (and knees) was failing, he still managed to join Juliette for a fundraising cycle for Maggie’s cancer caring centres, cycling from Drem to the Western General Infirmary in Edinburgh.

From the students’ perspective, Martyn strongly believed that there was more to be gained from university life than a degree, and he was a keen advocate of student sports. He seldom missed a staff-student rugby or hockey fixture, where many onlookers – though not his own family and friends – would be surprised by the latent, fierce physical competitiveness that smouldered within an otherwise gentle and unassuming man.

His support and mentorship of trainees was appreciated beyond the Dick Vet

Any ‘spare’ time he had, he shared between being chair of the North Berwick High School Parent Teacher Association and Citizens Advice in Haddington, as well as taking an opportunity to glorify nature through his watercolour paintings. He also read crime novels, avidly socialised, danced and recounted stories to all who would listen.

In 2021, Martyn’s health began to deteriorate and haemolytic anaemia was diagnosed. Treatment involved multiple, weekly blood transfusions, during which his rekindled love of painting (somewhat diminished after Sue’s death) saw him almost complete a picture every transfusion session. 

Martyn’s 41 years of contribution can be defined in terms of a few memorable characteristics – kindness, patience, gentleness, consideration for others, avuncularity, thoughtfulness and a tendency to self-effacement.

In teaching, he excelled in explaining the complexities of veterinary anaesthesia to the struggling student and, importantly, did so without ever showing frustration or impatience. His generosity extended to colleagues and postgraduates and is perhaps best illustrated by his readiness to take on more mundane cases while his younger and more enthusiastic diploma-seeking colleagues got themselves into hot water attempting more complicated anaesthetics.

He also cared greatly for the vet nurses and lay staff, and while the epitomy of politeness, he was never stuffy. This was rewarded with a steady supply of tea and biscuits that was denied to his colleagues.

Martyn’s support and mentorship of trainees was appreciated beyond the Dick Vet. Within the AVA, he was popular as one of the few who not only would socialise with fledgling anaesthetists but invariably do so after buying a round of drinks. 

Someone at the vet school once said that ‘Martyn Camburn did not have a bad bone in his body’. Few would contest this statement.

Our thoughts are with his family, and everyone else saddened by the loss of this wonderful man.

R. Eddie Clutton and Padraic Dixon

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