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Farewell to 'our man in Kathmandu' Farewell to 'our man in Kathmandu'

Farewell to 'our man in Kathmandu'

'Our man in Kathmandu', Rex Shore, worked with the Nepal Eye Program and then The Fred Hollows Foundation from his house in Kathmandu for many years from the 1980s through to 2010. He passed away on 16 December, 2017, at the age of 75.

Rex offered his help from early on to be 'in-country liaison' when NEPA (Nepal Eye Program Australia) was established by Fred and Dr Sanduk Ruit to raise money and contribute to the Nepal Eye Programme. Rex had no specific tasks but did everything that had to be done - from keeping the accounts to queuing for hours to obtain approval at one section or another of the Nepali bureaucracy, from planning eye camp schedules to making sure that adequate equipment was requested from Australia or bought locally.

When plans for the Tilganga Eye Centre (now the Tilganga institute of Ophthalmology) morphed into reality through the auspices of the nascent Fred Hollows Foundation, Rex's life became much busier. As well as continuing his role with eye camp planning, Rex became the FHF's main man in Nepal. 

Rex was instrumental in the process of identifying a site (no mean feat in Kathmandu where land is at a premium) and negotiating the complex path of acquiring it through a donation from the Pashpatinath Trust.

He was integral to the design and construction of the building to world class standards and was on site every day, project managing the build and the internal fit-out.

He met and chaperoned visiting engineers, media, medics, technicians and dignitaries and was an intermediary with local staff to ensure compliance with the rigorous standards required to achieve an ISO rating for the Intra Ocular Lens Manufacturing Lab. He also looked after the many Australian and international donors who visited Tilganga, telling them "We just couldn’t do it without you!" as he showed them around, ensuring their ongoing support.

Through all this, he nurtured the crucial relationship with the Australian government through the embassy in Kathmandu (and in the process became lifelong friends with Les Douglas, the incumbent ambassador, and his wife Una) who were very helpful in securing valuable endorsement and aid money.

Rex's adoption of Nepal as his country of residence began when he first went trekking and found that almost everything suited him.

Having developed a friendship with a Nepali, Nogopu (Prakash Sherpa), who was working on his trek, Rex found himself drawn back several times. In the 1980's, he decided to buy a block of land near the Stupa at Boudhanath on the outskirts of Kathmandu and build a house with Nogopu. This he duly did, with Nogopu, his wife and family living on the first floor apartment and Rex living in the ground floor apartment for the next 30 years. By getting Nogopu involved in building the house, Rex achieved his ambition that Nogopu have a proper career. Nogopu went on to be a successful builder, building the Tilganga Eye Centre and many other major projects in Kathmandu. When Nogopu built a house in his village, he included a room where Rex could live, if he chose to retire there.

To move to a country so different to his own background was rather typical of Rex – he had already moved to Australia from England at the age of 25. Although he had cousins in Australia, he had always been extremely independent in thought and action.

Self-reliant and practical, Rex was able to make major decisions without stuffing around, and didn't worry too much about a support network, knowing he could build one if required.

Rex stood out in Kathmandu. He was obviously the white man, tall and blonde, but his dealings with people were very Nepali – he was totally sympathetic and totally unsentimental. The deaths and tragedies and perturbations of life in Nepal that would derail most Westerners, would leave Rex regretful but philosophical, "garne?" he would say, 'What to do?'.

Along with this great spirit there was also an enormous sense of adventure. During his life in Australia, Rex was passionate about parachuting, a hobby he fully embraced for years, before switching to windsurfing which he could do easily from his then home on Sydney's Northern Beaches.

He also absolutely adored his Land Rover (he actually brought his original one out to Australia from the UK) and would go off on great drives. On one such trip deep into the desert in Central Australia, his effort to clear a small patch of spinifex with a little fire was rewarded with a conflagration, and the Land Rover went up in flames as well. Despite being terribly burnt, Rex and his mate walked to the road where they came across some telephone engineers who shimmied up a pole to call for help. Those of you who knew him will remember the scarring he carried all those years later. In fact, Rex spent six months recovering in Alice Springs Hospital. 

By the time of his move to live permanently in Kathmandu, Rex had worked his way up to be Station Officer at the Narrabeen Ambulance Base, having started as a driver, then becoming a paramedic in which role he worked all over Sydney. His family in England wonders if it was during the prolonged stay in Alice Springs Hospital that he decided to become a paramedic – his cousins recall that a sense of duty to the wellbeing of others had always been present, he had been a very enthusiastic member of the Territorial Army as a very young man, and his younger cousin remembers him 'driving a jeep around the countryside in the snow and pulling people out of drifts'.

Rex was born in Hastings in East Sussex during World War 2. His father was a pilot in the RAF. The happy family were joined by another son, Mark. At around this time his mother became unwell and died when Rex was only four. His father married again and gave Rex and Mark another brother Ian. Unfortunately that second marriage did not endure and Rex’s stepmother moved away with the baby Ian. Unbelievably and tragically, when Rex was only 7, his father was killed when his plane flew into a mountainside in Wales. As his cousins recall,  Rex once said that losing people close to him seemed 'natural'.

He was, in fact, extremely fortunate to have very loving and supportive grandparents, who took on the main task of bringing the two boys up in as normal a way as possible, although Rex called his maternal Grandmother 'Her Eminence' and commented to his brother that living with her was rather like living in the last days of the Raj.

Aunts, Uncles and adoring younger cousins with whom Rex, as the eldest, orchestrated great games, insured the time at their various houses during holidays from Boarding School was happy and inclusive. His brother Mark recalls there was much to laugh about and, indeed, Rex's great sense of humour and its uniqueness endured until the very end – everyone will recall his nicknaming; his great friends Les and Una Douglas remained His Excellence and Madame long after Les retired as ambassador to Nepal, and many of his family were given similar titles. He liked to have particular secret jokes with different people.

Rex enjoyed getting out of Kathmandu and, despite a bad back, would trek for days to attend eye camps, but was always glad to be home. He loved his motorbike and driving the winding roads to Godavari to get away from the Kathmandu traffic. He hated official functions, but was always happy to get together with friends and lament the foolishness of politicians, bureaucracies and red tape.  His favourite Nepali festival was Diwali, 'the festival of lights'.

Rex remained very close to his extended family, visiting his cousins in both England and Australia whenever he could, and even in the days before email and skype, he made taped recordings to send back to them to keep them informed of a life that would be hard for them to imagine. He was a thoughtful and regular correspondent who loved to hear the latest news and never let a birthday or Christmas pass without sending a humorous e-card to brighten its recipients' day.

In recent years, health issues, the crowding in Kathmandu and a desire for warm weather and sunshine led Rex to retire to Port Douglas, close to his dear friends Les and Una who, he said, lived 'in heaven'.  He died from complications following surgery for an aortic aneurism.

He is survived by his brothers Mark and Ian, and his cousins Sarah, Joanna, Brian, Gill, Barry, John and Kate, and their families, and will be remembered by many friends all over the world.

His friends and colleagues at the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology plan to name the Rex Shore Community Wing in his honour and created an annual award in his name, for excellence in remote community eye health work.