by Peter Cummins
What would you call a person who has excelled in fields
as diverse as medicine and motor racing, photography and philanthropy, who
is a raconteur and restive, a gastronome and a gentleman, a man of the
world and a man of the word, a restaurateur and a revolutionary,
hedonistic yet humanistic, he is a man given to anecdotes and analogies,
erudite and entertaining! He is witty and wise. Would you call him an
‘over-achiever’? Or an ‘overwhelmer’? Or neither of these? You
would call him Iain Corness - or, Dr. Iain Corness, if you wish - because
that is his name.
seemed not just mildly surprised that on Sunday, 18 November, he
celebrated reaching his fifth-cycle, sixtieth birthday, right here at
Pattaya, thus becoming the longest-living male of the Corness line, all
others, including his father, having withdrawn from the longevity stakes
by age 56 - or younger.
This slice of the clan history was not un-noticed by
his son, Dr. Jonathan Corness, which prompted him to e-mail father on the
great day with the strong exhortation that Corness senior continue on his
march into old age (senior citizenship, as the Aussies would call it)
“as it makes MY long-term outlook better.”
Born on 18 November 1941 in Lisburn Northern Ireland,
Iain is quick to point out that he is not Irish; “if you are born in a
stable, that does not make you a horse,” he contends with his
A move to Scotland and then the Corness family migrated
to Australia in 1955 - with Iain then at the ripe old age of 13 - under
what was known as the “Assisted Passage Scheme”. This was made
available to prospective migrants from the UK, for 10 Pounds.
He acknowledges the influence of a tough,
uncompromising father who instilled in him the tenet of not accepting the
‘status quo’ of any situation; rather examine things - everything - to
see how you can do it better. Be intensely competitive in all you do.
“Winning isn’t everything,” was his father’s counsel, “but it
sure beats coming second.”
Though his father died at the early age of 56, his
mother, at 84, is still ‘hale and hearty’, with a sharp mind and they
are in frequent contact via letters. Iain is grateful to both parents for
endowing him with an indomitable spirit and an iron will. Or, to rephrase
one of his headlines in the Modern Medicine column: “Your intelligence
is in your jeans? Sorry, in your genes!”
In 1958, he finished at the Brisbane Boys College. A
penchant for mathematics led him towards engineering but Mother - a strong
influence on his life even now - aimed him towards medicine.
Iain’s rational mind held sway - again - and he
figured that if he became a doctor he would still be able to “fiddle
around with engineering in his spare time.” Conversely, if he became an
engineer, it would be rather difficult to “moonlight” as a medic. One
could hardly use an acetylene torch to fuse broken bones!
So he became a doctor, sitting his finals in the UK and
then headed for Gibraltar to escape the British weather. There, his
‘maiden’ journalistic thrust was published in that bastion of
womanhood, “The Australian Women’s Weekly”. “It was a start,”
said Doc, “and I was paid for the article too!”
By 1968, aged only 27 and already having taken on many
challenges, Doc headed back to Australia, working his way as a ship’s
surgeon, with “a suitcase full of go faster bits for an MGB sports
It was at this time that his philosophy came together.
He opened his own medical clinic in Brisbane and built his first MGB
racing car under the house. Successful racing soon caught the attention of
British Leyland for whom he worked and the by-then modified MGB was
recognized as the fastest of its class in the world.
Along the way Doc has racked up a number of records and
went through many changes, finally coming to Thailand for a visit in 1975.
Like many of us, he was “hooked” instantly by the magic of the Kingdom
and vowed, like General Macarthur at Guadalcanal some 30 years earlier,
that “he would return”.
A hugely expensive Hasselblad imported from overseas
was the deciding factor in the Doc becoming a professional photographer.
After setting up a studio in the mid-1980s, he became highly successful as
a commercial photographer. “The camera was so expensive, it had to
‘earn its keep’ as quickly as possible,” he recalled. He is still
accredited to the Institute of Australian Professional Photographers.
In 1989, Doc opened Brisbane’s first fast Thai food
restaurant but motor racing was in his blood. He had a horrendous accident
in 1992, when he escaped from a blazing inferno, losing only his eyebrows
and eye lashes, though he still carries the scars on his back as a
permanent reminder of his brush with death. Of course he went right back
on the circuit the very next day.
In 1990, Iain formed his own racing team, giving young
drivers a chance, supplying cars and funding. The cost to the novices? An
agreement to accompany him around the schools to spread an anti-smoking
By 1997, Doc was ready to ‘retire’ to Thailand,
which he did. However, a usual “Day-in-the-life-of-Doc” involves
concentrating on his medical consultancy at Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital,
photojournalism coverage of events around the Eastern Seaboard, and
managing the Pattaya Mail Channel TV programme. He also prepares
his gourmet, automania, photography, modern medicine and personnel columns
(except this particular one!), contributes numerous news stories and
fillers for the Pattaya Mail, now and again attends motor shows,
reviews new models and follows many other interests.
At his splendid sixtieth birthday, held poolside at Ib
and Kannikar Ottesen’s beautiful Residence Garden last Sunday and
attended by a huge number of well-wishers, Doc acknowledged the three
major people who greatly eased his transition. His “brother’ Peter
Malhotra who was - and still is - his ‘alter ego’, guiding him along
new paths, sometimes fraught with pitfalls; the lovely Khun Neera,
assistant to the director of Bangkok Pattaya Hospital who convinced Doc to
become a consultant at the hospital; and Bryant Berry, managing director
of Northern Thai Real Estate, who was “an inspiration at all times.”
Iain, may you live to see many more cycles. Happy
Birthday from all of us, too!