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Devonport’s triathlete GP contemplates next lap

Flagstaff Team

Signing off… GP Grant Smith with some of the cards he has received from patients as he departed his practice of 38 years.

After almost four decades of practising family medicine in Devonport, Dr Grant Smith was inundated with messages from patients on his retirement.

Patients from five generations of one family are among those he has farewelled after 38 years in the job, along with plenty of others where he has seen four generations come through his surgery.

Smith offered obstetric care until 15 years ago, so met some of his patients when they were born.

“I have had lots of very very nice messages and cards from patients, reminding me of delivering their children,” he says.

As well as being well known locally as a GP, Smith has made his mark as a triathlete.

Over the past two decades, he has competed in “hundreds” of triathlons, including a Half Ironman.

A keen sportsman in his youth, he took up triathlons later in life as something he could do in his own time.

“If I do things, I tend to do them competitively, so I aligned my training with the lead-up to the worldwide competitions. I’d be training 15 hours a week. I can’t do that all the time.”

At age 67, he still has more in the tank. “When I hit 70, the world championships will be in Bermuda. I am thinking about doing another one. It will take me two years to build up to it.”

He and wife Maria Sardi also enjoy swimming, walking and cycling together, something they plan to do plenty of over the next few months.

Smith had one day at home in Bayswater, after finishing up at Devonport Family Medicine on 29 March.

Then he and Sardi headed to their cherry orchard in the South Island, near Clyde. His brothers and their wives were joining them to start harvesting grapes from a vineyard on the property.

Smith has overseen the planting of 6000 trees on the 250-hectare property, along with the vineyard.

After a couple of weeks in the South Island, Smith and Sardi are heading to Europe for two months, where Smith will study Spanish in Seville, in order to keep up with Colombian Sardi and her family.

After that, Smith expects to return to family medicine part-time, but not to own a practice again.

He has handed his share of the Devonport practice over to partner Dr Pieter Veenhuijsen.

Between them, they had 2000 patients registered, and saw many more on a walk-in basis. Devonport patients who have moved away have continued to travel to see Smith, some coming from as far as Wanaka and Northland.

“I think being a GP is a privilege,” he says. “People trust you.”

He first set up in an upstairs room on Victoria Rd in 1980, with only a receptionist in the practice.

“I used to say, ‘If you can make it up my stairs, you don’t need to see me.’”

The Devonport Family Medicine premises in Fleet St were built 32 years ago.

Dr Erica Lauder joined the practice 28 years ago, operating independently but in the same building. With Smith’s departure, she has moved temporarily to The Doctors, at Hauraki Corner, with plans to return to new premises in Devonport later in the year.

Seven years ago, Smith sold half his practice to Veenhuijsen, which allowed Smith to reduce his hours and start taking holidays.

Having taken the next logical step of handing over the rest of the practice, it’s time for breather, albeit with Spanish lessons and that next world triathlon to prepare for.

Friends ask why Smith and Sardi don’t move to their South Island land. Smith points to their home in Bayswater, with a large section running down to Ngataringa Bay, and asks why he would want to leave.

This article originally appeared in the April 19 edition of The Devonport Flagstaff. Download PDF.