Respected GP devoted her life to serving others

Dr Sally Watkins
Dr Sally Watkins

Dr Sarah Watkins, or Sally as everyone knew her, died at her home in Burford on November 7. She was 74.

Sally spent 30 years serving the communities of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade, where she worked as a general practitioner and, later, as an acupuncturist.

Born Sarah Jackson in 1942, Sally’s medical career began at Hammersmith Hospital, where she worked as a nurse.

Proud, pioneering and fiercely independent, she went to medical school at St Mary’s, qualifying in 1968.

She always said she decided to become a doctor after a disparaging male physician questioned her abilities.

Sally married Paul Watkins and initially stayed in London, where she went to work for Dr John Horder, a leading figure in the development of general practice across Britain.

She and Paul had two children, Persephone and Thomas. The couple separated in 1976, and Sally then moved to the Leighton Buzzard area with Dr David Tunnadine, first to Billington and then to Copper Beech Way in Leighton.

Sally and David complemented each other professionally and formed a powerful team.

They eventually set up their own medical practice in Europa House on West Street in Leighton Buzzard, and they lived together until David moved into a care home. He died in April this year, aged 92.

Throughout her career, Sally worked tirelessly to improve her own skills and gain new qualifications, and went on to become a much-respected GP trainer.

Sally’s work ethic took a toll on her health, and she decided in 1997 to retire early from the NHS and pursue new forms of healing and helping.

Inspired by a trip to China with David in the early 90s, Sally developed a deep interest in Chinese medicine and Tai-Chi. She went on to study in Beijing and became a qualified acupuncturist, practicing in Leighton Buzzard for about a decade.

In the early 2000s, she started visiting Bangladesh and Ethiopia, where she worked with Catholic nuns to help in some of the world’s poorest communities. She formed close bonds with many of these Sisters and taught them basic acupuncture. Sally also contributed financially to innumerable projects, helping build clinics, schools and pay for the education of young women.

During much of this time, Sally also worked as a police surgeon for Bedfordshire police, treating individuals in custody.

She stayed immersed in the Leighton Buzzard community and would give frequent talks about acupuncture and her travels.

She learned magic tricks and joined the local choir, where she delighted in learning to sing despite a lifetime doubting her vocal capabilities.

Sally retired in 2010 and moved to her beloved house in Burford, which she had bought in 1982. Even after she retired, she continued to treat anyone she could get her hands on -- with acupuncture or with reiki.

Sally had strong views and would never hesitate to express them. In 2004, on the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, she was quoted by the Independent lambasting George W. Bush and decrying the falsehoods on which the conflict was predicated.

An avid consumer of news, Sally followed this year’s US election closely. It is fair to say she would have been horrified at the result.

After suffering a cerebral stroke in 2013, Sally lost much of her cherished independence but still insisted on looking out for others before taking care of herself.

For example, she tried to give reiki to the stroke specialist when he was examining her on the ward in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Sally is survived by Paul, their two children and three grandchildren: Felix, Sid and Willa.

Her funeral will be held at Fairspear Natural Burial Site at Leafield, near Burford on Friday, November 18 at 2.30pm.

A memorial fund has been established at and all monies will benefit the work of Sally’s beloved Sisters in Bangladesh and Ethiopia.