Remembering Mervyn Yamey, who found happiness working at Royal Free aged 74

Royal Free administrator Mervyn Yamey on a recent visit to Arundel Castle

Royal Free administrator Mervyn Yamey on a recent visit to Arundel Castle - Credit: Family handout

Tributes are being paid to a “legend” renowned as the life and soul of the Royal Free Hospital where he started work aged 74.  

Friends, colleagues and family recalled how Mervyn Yamey went the “extra mile” for patients, describing his beloved work as an administrator at the Hampstead hospital as a “blessing”.  

The husband, father and grandfather, 78, died on June 25 after a cardiac arrest at home in Hampstead Garden Suburb.  

His son, Dr Gavin Yamey, said: “My dad lived a life devoted to his wife and family, and was someone who exuded kindness, gentleness, and care.  

“He also put everybody at ease and made them laugh. He got on brilliantly with everyone, from all walks of life. His final years were his happiest.  

“He knew what brought him joy and had the knack of spending most of his time doing the things he loved with the people he loved.” 

Mervyn was born in Wolseley, South Africa, 60 miles from Cape Town. He enjoyed an “idyllic childhood running free” – memorably driving a car through the countryside aged 13.  

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At boarding school he was a prefect and captain of the cricket team, growing into a lifelong sports fan.  

After studying pharmacy at college, he dropped out and worked at his father’s general store in Wolseley, in the Western Cape province.    

Then, in 1972, the family left apartheid-era South Africa and moved to England. They settled first in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, and then, in 1975, in London - where Mervyn lived for the rest of his life.  

During his career the “people person” had a series of jobs including selling clothes, photocopiers, and life insurance.  

But it wasn’t until the age of 74 that he found his true calling, when he started work at the Royal Free’s ambulatory emergency care unit as an administrative assistant.  

“It was a wonderful role for him, since he is so kind, caring, funny, and compassionate,” Dr Yamey said.  

“We hear that he became a bit of a legend at the hospital – it seems everybody knew him.  

“He treated everyone with great courtesy and respect, he put patients at their ease, going out of his way to escort them to where they needed to be, and made them laugh.  

“He came in early and stayed late. The job gave him more meaning and purpose than anything else in his work life.”

Mervyn, admired for his outfits, in a suit at boarding school

Mervyn, admired for his outfits, in a suit at boarding school - Credit: Family handout

Mervyn’s “snazzy” dressing was roundly admired, catching the eyes of his colleagues. Staff would even pop in to check which coloured Ralph Lauren shirt he had donned for the day.   

Dr Tara Sood, a consultant in emergency medicine at the Royal Free, said: “He had more energy than those than 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.  

“He enjoyed meeting patients and staff of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, many of whom enjoyed a philosophical debate or a discussion about music or culture with him.” 

The Yamey connection to the Royal Free runs deep – Mervyn and his two sons worked there, his daughter has done so for 27 years, and his wife is a patient rep for the Royal Free NHS trust.  

Richard Ilo, elderly care coordinator for the hospital, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to know and work with Mervyn Yamey.  

“He was a perfectionist and it made working with him fun. But, he was also my friend and for that I can only offer the highest accolade, Halleluyah!”  

Mervyn was married to his wife Anthea for 55 years. During a “love affair for the ages”, the couple enjoyed hikes and travels across Europe.  

He is survived by Anthea, his sons Gavin and Craig, daughter Lauren, and grandchildren Ruby, Theo and Wyeth.

The music of Oscar Peterson, Mervyn’s favourite jazz pianist, will be played at his funeral.

Mervyn was a conductor at an annual rugby competition between schools in South Africa

Mervyn was a conductor at an annual rugby competition between schools in South Africa - Credit: Family handout