Stan Brock Obituary – Wapishana People, British Guiana | The Times UK

Stan Brock obituary | The Times UK

Stan Brock presented a popular wildlife show on US TV in the Sixties

British adventurer who ran the biggest ranch in the world, starred in a wildlife show and set up a medical charity to help the poor

When he was a teenager Stan Brock urgently needed medical attention after being thrown from a wild horse in British Guiana. Had he been an Apollo astronaut needing treatment on the moon, he later mused, he would have been back on Earth within three days.

Here, among the Wapishana people in the remote savannah of South America, there was unwelcome news. “They told me I was 26 days away from the nearest doctor,” he told The Times last year.                 

Over the years Brock remained troubled about the inaccessibility of healthcare in much of the world, whether because of distance or cost. In 1985 he sold most of his possessions and set up Remote Area Medical (RAM), a non-profit American volunteer corps that takes emergency help to places hit by disaster, such as Haiti. Increasingly, its services are called upon in the USA, where large numbers of people lacking health insurance turn up to its clinics with throbbing teeth, failing eyes and wheezing lungs.            

RAM uses donated aircraft, a fleet of lorries and thousands of volunteers to deliver its medical care. Brock himself flew a vintage Douglas C-47 aircraft built in 1943 that had been used by the US Ninth Air Force in the Normandy landings. When he was told that licensing laws meant that medical practitioners could not legally work across state boundaries, he campaigned successfully to get the law changed in Tennessee and a handful of other states. “It’s a major impediment to us when we’ve got states that do not allow it,” he said.

No documents are needed, no questions are asked and no payment is required. Vast convention centres or sports arenas are transformed into field hospitals, where military veterans, the homeless, pensioners and those working in the gig economy queue for basic healthcare, including eye examinations, dental treatment, mammograms, cervical smear tests and chest x-rays.

During one clinic in 2011 Brock described how 39 dentists were roaming from chair to chair in a school gym, doing consultations, cleanings, fillings, extractions and other routine work. “About 700 of our patients today wanted to see the dentist,” he said. “And more than 400 wanted to see the eye doctor.” The queues had begun forming at 5.30pm the previous day, with some patients sleeping in their cars all night. Others walked miles simply to get their blood pressure checked. Their pets were seen by veterinary volunteers.

For many years RAM’s headquarters was a former school that Brock leased from the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, for $1 a year. It was funded through donations and relied almost entirely on volunteers.

“People call [RAM] a band-aid operation and there’s some validity to that,” Brock said in an interview with The Times. “But when we see a patient who has to have all their teeth taken out, or they learn they have oral cancer, or they didn’t know they had diabetes — well, that’s life-changing.”

Stanley Edmunde Brock was born in Preston, Lancashire, in 1936, and had an elder brother, Peter, who lives in New Zealand. He won a scholarship to Canford School, Dorset, but was bullied by more privileged classmates. Despite dreaming of joining the navy, Stan dropped out at age 16 and sailed to Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana (now Guyana), where his father was a colonial administrator.

On the boat over he heard tales of the rainforest from a “crusty old settler”, and on his arrival found work at the Dadanawa Ranch, said to be the world’s largest, on the Brazilian frontier. The job paid “$40 a month and keep”, he recalled.

For the next 15 years Brock lived as a vaquero, or cowboy, with the Wapishana people, sleeping in a hammock in a mud hut and learning to ride wild horses and lasso cattle. He even learnt the Wapishani language. “I still dream in Wapishani,” he told an interviewer in 1976. Jaguars and pumas were the biggest threat to man and cattle, although he also contracted illnesses such as a flesh-eating bug. “It was inconvenient, but I got over it,” he said nonchalantly. On one sojourn into the jungle he discovered a previously unknown species of bat, which scientists named Vampyressa brocki in his honour.

Brock had great respect for the vaqueros. “In those Indians I saw man as he was originally intended to be on Earth — an omnivore and a hunter living in harmony with his environment,” he said, later titling his memoir All the Cowboys were Indians (1999).

“Their survival depends on their knowledge of wildlife and birds, and they are never wasteful. They hunt only what they need to survive. But man now, with commercial hunting for foods, skins and sport, is destructive and wasteful and creates an imbalance.”

He wrote of his experiences for magazines such as Outdoor Life and Reader’s Digest, and by 1964 was made general manager of the ranch. Four years later Marlin Perkins, a zoologist who presented the NBC programme Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, invited Brock to take part.

“The answer was, of course, yes,” Brock said. “After working on three shows I was offered a full-time job as co-host.” At its height, Wild Kingdom drew more than 32 million viewers a week across the USA.

On the back of the programme he travelled to every corner of the world. He also starred in a handful of films that were low on plot, but packed with animals, such as Escape from Angola (1976). There would be no stand-ins or doubles. “People don’t want to see trick photography and stunt men performing,” he insisted. “They want real adventure, and that’s what I try to give them.”

Over the next couple of decades Brock combined television appearances with work for zoos and wildlife parks. In 1974 he ran 162 miles in six days across Florida as part of a fund-raising campaign for the Central Florida Zoo. “I just hope I don’t get lost,” he quipped as he set off. One zoo led to another and by the 1980s he was in Knoxville, where he set up RAM.

The charity’s earliest work was overseas, but Brock became increasingly aware that many people in the USA also needed healthcare. Even in more affluent areas he would find thousands of people without adequate medical insurance.

“We recently did an event in Los Angeles, which is known for its wealth, but has a large population of the unemployed, the homeless and many other people without insurance,” he said in 2009. “I have never seen an area of the USA, whether it is urban or rural, even if it was thought to be well-to-do, where there wasn’t need.”

Even after President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), there were an estimated 29 million Americans without sufficient health insurance, meaning that RAM’s resources were becoming increasingly stretched.

“It’s cutting into our overseas events,” Brock complained last year of the demand for basic care, adding that he should have been working in more impoverished countries.

Tall, sinewy and standing ram-rod straight, Brock, who held a black belt in taekwondo, had sandy brown hair, alert eyes and a slightly weathered face. He often wore an open-necked khaki uniform. Part James Bond, part Mahatma Gandhi, he ate a strict vegetarian diet of porridge, fruit, rice and beans. He drew no salary, had no bank account and slept on a rolled-out mat by his desk, rising at 4am to do 600 sit-ups before going for a bike ride or a run. He would squat while talking, adding: “Sitting isn’t good for you.”

At some point there had been a 12-year marriage, but none of his many interviewers managed to elicit much detail, other than that he had no children. “Would I like to be married?” he said in 2014. “Yes. Would I like to have children? Yes . . . But I’ve got thousands of them now.” His main companion was a blind stray dog named Rambeau.

As the NHS in England (although not in all parts of the UK) increasingly raised charges for eye tests, dental checks and prescriptions, Brock talked of bringing RAM to this country and even claimed to have a corporate donor willing to transport equipment and practitioners across the Atlantic.

Last year he contacted The Times after the paper reported that millions of people in England had no local dentist willing to take on NHS patients. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to equate the healthcare situation in Britain to that here in the United States of America,” he said.

Brock’s work was never finished. “The sad thing is that you can’t see all of them,” frowned the man who insisted on reading every incoming email and letter asking for assistance. “There’s always that time on the last day of a clinic when you’ve got to say no.”

Stan Brock, cowboy, TV presenter and founder of the charity Remote Area Medical, was born on April 21, 1936. He died from the effects of a stroke on August 29, 2018, aged 82

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 14, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Eddie in the UK wrote:

    The world needs more Stan Brocks, especially people in poor countries.

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 14, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Jerald wrote:

    Impressive and Inspiring Legacy Stan Brock has left.

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 14, 2018 at 12:32 pm

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 14, 2018 at 12:32 pm

  • dhanoaul narine  On September 15, 2018 at 2:10 am

    He left a great legacy, may he rest in peace.

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 15, 2018 at 2:45 am

  • Ron Saywack  On September 15, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Stan Brock was a giant of a man. Alongside Marlin Perkins, he played a major role in the popular Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom television shows.

    His passing is an immeasurable loss to the underprivileged class.

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