A Country Doctor (Dr Richard Rice)
"No weather ever stopped him. He went pounding away on his bicycle over the bare unsheltered Downs, from village to village, against the gale, head bent over the handlebars, in the driving rain with the drops falling from the ends of his moustache, his gaitered legs splashed with white chalky mud.
You met him at all times and seasons and hours pushing his machine sturdily up the steep hills, free-wheeling down them, always giving a cheery greeting to everyone, for everyone knew him throughout the big district he covered in his rounds. It was astonishing how he ever got those rounds done. He was ubiquitous in a dozen villages, to say nothing of the lonely houses away up on the Downs with scarce a road leading to them, and that road as good as a ploughed field any time from October to March.
No suave spoken man this. He walked into a cottage, as rough as the weather outside. He could give grim and fearful greetings at times, nevertheless they liked him, because they understood him and his plain speaking. They knew all the time that his heart was softer than his tongue; he would scold them at times but did it so cheerily they took it as an ordinary expression of goodwill. A Doctor who would sit patiently for hours in a shepherd's cottage up on the Downs waiting for a child to be born, and who would not take more than 5s. for the same could never be a heartless man."
(From A Downland Corner, by the Reverend Victor L. Whitchurch. 1912)
Those who knew Dr Richard Rice, a much-loved doctor and Harwell figure, easily recognized him as the model for this character. He commenced practice in Harwell in 1882, and retired in 1945 at the age of eighty-six. It was said of him that during the whole of this period he had not had a holiday nor had he been away from duty for a single day. He was friend and doctor to succeeding generations of patients for sixty-two years.
The eldest son of the Reverend Richard Rice, vicar of Little Barrington, Gloucestershire, Dr Rice qualified in 1879. After being an assistant in South Wales, he returned to hospital for further study. In 1882 he took over Dr Newman's practice at Harwell, which included the parishes of Didcot, Chilton, Blewbury and Upton. He also had patients at Wantage, Hanney, Dray ton, Compton, East and West Ilsley, East and West Hendred, Milton and Steventon. He held a number of official medical appointments.
In his early days he covered his rounds on horseback, or by pony and trap. He was a keen follower of the Old Berks Hunt, and enjoyed his country rides; if jumps offered a shorter route he took them with zest. He estimated that he had ridden over 100,000 miles on horseback. Later he rode a bicycle, and finally drove in a car with a chauffeur, Mr Gee, late of Harwell. Until the outbreak of war in 1939 he was a medical officer to the Royal Air Force at Milton, and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps at Didcot. His first partner was Dr Margaret Cowen (?later Weir) in 1923; others were Dr John Chitty and Dr A. Armitage Beazeley.
His interest in the life of Harwell never flagged. Dearest to him, perhaps, was the Parish Church, where a plaque commemorates his twenty-one years as a churchwarden; in the last ten years he was also a vicar's warden. He had also been secretary of the Parochial Church Council, choirmaster and a member of the choir. He was one of the first members of Harwell Parish Council.
At the annual village sports he always acted as one of the judges, his favourite contest being the tug-of-war. In his early days he was a member of the voluntary Harwell fire brigade, and was one of those on duty when Didcot station was burnt down in 1886. For the last twenty years of his life he was president of the local branch of the British Legion. "His life was a record of public usefulness and he never spared himself. He was a friend of anyone in need." (Canon E. J. Evans)
The doctor in Travels Round Our Village by Eleanor Hayden was also modelled on Dr Rice:
“A doctor well-known in the district, was riding over a wild stretch of down, when he came across a fold and stopped to exchange a few words with the guardian. The shepherd inhabited a desolate cottage far removed from any other dwelling, and the physician further proceeded to enquire how the lonely family managed to obtain medical assistance in time of illness.
‘Well sir,’ replied the shepherd in all good faith, ‘we dwun’t ha’ no doctor; we just dies a nat’ral death.’"