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Mervyn, ‘the mayor of the Royal Free’, dies aged 78

We used to joke that he was the sort of man who would iron his underpants

01 July, 2021 — By Tom Foot

Mervyn Yamey loved working at the Royal Free

HE was, according to his son, a little like the “mayor of the Royal Free”.

Mervyn Yamey, who died on Friday aged 78, was met by thousands of patients through his front-of-house role at the hospital in Hampstead.

Always impeccably dressed, he took pride in the job, a new calling that he had found in his 70s.

His son, Dr Gavin Yamey, said: “It was because of that job that he was the happiest he had been in the last phase of his life. It became his greatest passion, and in just the short time he worked there he became a mini-legend at the hospital. He became like the mayor of the hospital.”

Dr Yamey added: “He was incredibly kind and polite and always impeccably dressed. People would come down to the ward to see what shirt he was wearing. Proper suits, button-down shirts – Penguin and Munsingwear.

“He would get his hair cut at a barber that used a razor and flame that singed the edges. We used to joke that he was the sort of man who would iron his underpants.”

Born in South Africa, Mervyn moved to this country as a young man with his childhood sweetheart, Anthea. They were married for 55 years and lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

He worked several sales jobs, including menswear, photocopiers and insurance, before becoming the administrator of the Royal Free’s ambulatory and emergency care units.

Always impeccably dressed, Mervyn Yamey

Dr Yamey said: “We were all a little bit frightened by how organised he was. The night before work, he would literally pour his cereal into a bowl with a spoon to be ready, so as to save time in the morning. We just found a notebook with all the things from work he had to do, all written in this wonderful calligraphic handwriting.”

Dr Yamey, a consultant and professor, described his father as “a patient and gentle soul” whose job at the Royal Free involved checking people in and out and that “everything was in order”.

Mervyn’s daughter, Lauren Geddes, has worked as a respiratory physiotherapist at the hospital in Pond Street for 27 years, while his other son Craig worked as a physiotherapy assistant there. Anthea was a patient rep for the NHS trust.

The family has a “deep, abiding relationship” with the Royal Free, Dr Yamey said, and are considering setting up a prize for kindness in his memory.

During the pandemic lockdown, Mervyn had not been able to work at the hospital but he was able to spend time with Anthea and go on local walks together.

His death was sudden and unexpected as he was in good health, Dr Yamey said. Royal Free colleague Dr Tara Sood, a consultant, said: “He had more energy than those half his age and ran a tight ship, keeping the whole unit running efficiently.

“He was a welcoming face to our patients and he always went the extra mile for them, walking them round the hospital to different departments and making sure they got home OK.”

Richard Ilo, an elderly care coordinator who worked closely with Mervyn, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to know and work with Mervyn Yamey.”

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