Dr Iain Corness obituary: a Pattaya man of all the talents

18 November 1941-30 January 2023.

One of Pattaya’s best-known foreign residential achievers has died here after a long battle with cancer. Reviewing the life of such a gifted man with so many success stories and fields of interest is no easy task. Iain’s achievements ran from medicine to motor racing and from photography to philanthropy. He was a restaurateur and a raconteur who opened Australia’s first fast-food Thai eatery and later became Pattaya Mail’s most prolific and original contributor. Twenty years ago, special correspondent Peter Cummins admitted he couldn’t decide whether Iain was an over-achiever or an over-whelmer. We now know it’s both.

Born in Northern Ireland in 1941, Iain always stressed he was a Brit of Scottish ancestry. “Just because you are born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse,” he used to say. As a young teen, he was a guest of the Australian government courtesy of the 10-pounds assisted passage scheme for families. The youthful Corness attended Brisbane Boys College and introduced himself to the labour market with jobs as a night watchman and a petrol pump attendant. He took the advice of his nurse mother to study to become a doctor and duly qualified in UK. He paid for his passage back home to Australia by being the ship’s doctor. “I wasn’t too busy, “he recalled, “after one patient with a toothache screamed during the difficult extraction.”

A positive avalanche of activities in Brisbane duly followed. Iain opened his own medical clinic and, subsequently, the Thai restaurant in his spare time. Not to mention getting married. He also indulged his life-long obsession with car racing, building his first MGB model under his house. Successful racing soon caught the attention of British Leyland and the by-then modified MGB was recognized as the fastest of its class in the world. In 1990 he formed his own racing team. He also became a commercial photographer and became accredited to the Institute of Australian Professional Photographers. “The camera was expensive, so it had to earn its keep as quickly as possible.”

Not everything was plain sailing. In 1992, he miraculously escaped from a blazing inferno on the race track losing only his eyebrows and lashes, carrying scars on his back for the rest of his life. After vacationing in Thailand in 1975, Iain planned to start a fresh life here and finally moved permanently in 1997. Asked why he chose Pattaya to domicile, he explained “it was the only place with an auto race track (Bira Circuit).” He never travelled abroad again and explained in 2022, “You see, I absolutely hate filling in forms and the immigration procedures made it impossible for me to consider going abroad.”

Pattaya in 1997 was a very different venue from today. There seemed few opportunities outside of sex and booze. But Iain managed to weave all his qualifications and interests into a truly revolutionary career. Never a retiree waiting for the bars to open, Iain bumped into the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital where he became a non-practicing consultant, work permit and all, where he advised thousands of patients over the years about the real deal and won praise for his empathetic bedside manner. He wrote two books on idiosyncratic Pattaya Expat Life which were a sellout at Bookazine and on Amazon. He was a regular attendee at Pattaya business meetings and social gatherings too numerous to mention. His car racing continued with gigantic enthusiasm until a year before his death.

His connection with Pattaya Mail, the resort’s first and now only print newspaper with daily internet updates, went back almost to the foundation in 1993. Iain wrote regularly and voluminously under his own name – Automania and Modern Medicine – as well as under barely-concealed pseudonyms. He was, of course, the gastronome Miss Terry Dinner, the flash-photographer Harry Flashman and the book worm Lang Reid. Not to mention Dear Hillary, the agony aunt coping with naive expats and their heterosexual wanderings. He also produced news items, one-off columns and multitudes of “fillers”, the bits and pieces between the commercial ads. Iain’s journalistic contributions often revealed common-sense advice to the expat community: don’t fall in love with ladies of the night, be careful when ordering Indian curries which are often too spicy and don’t forget an annual medical if you are middle aged or worse.

Dr Iain Corness, the Good Doctor as he was affectionately known, is irreplaceable in Pattaya annals. Pattaya Mail offers to his family deepest condolences from both management and the general readership. In one of his last public appearances, at the Pattaya City Expat Club last October, I asked Iain what he would do if offered the keys of the city. “Ask for a duplicate set of course.”
Requiescat in Pace Iain Corness: 18 November 1941 – 30 January 2023.