Michael Cooper, a former chair of the Otago Area Health Board and an academic known as the father of health economics in New Zealand, has died after a long illness.
Awarded an OBE in 1994, Professor Cooper (78) was in recent years the director of a boutique olive oil business, Molive of Martinborough Ltd.
A University of Otago economics professor for almost 20 years, he was also the university’s pro vice-chancellor. He was chair of the Otago Hospital Board, vice president of Health Boards New Zealand and Otago Area Health Board’s chair between 1988 and 1991. He then served a couple of years as the board’s health commissioner.
One of his former students, Paul Hansen, associate professor of economics at the University of Otago, considers Professor Cooper one of the fathers of health economics in this country.
He established the university’s first health economics class in the late 1970s.
“Mike, because of his style, panache and sense of humour, was a wonderful orator and able to communicate…revealing the humanity of health economics,” Dr Hansen says.
The university’s first general practice professor, Campbell Murdoch, now a GP in Renwick, recalls Professor Cooper producing research relevant to New Zealand at a time when not a lot was available.
He was one of the few academics who understood general practice, and his research on prescribing was particularly valuable, Professor Murdoch says.
Professor Cooper’s widow, Joy – who was group manager, national ambulance services with the Ministry of Health until her retirement last October – says he believed knowledge of economics was worthwhile only if it was used to improve life for the community.
He firmly believed in the area health board model, which he helped design and worked hard to put into effect in Otago.
When New Zealand Doctor editor Barbara Fountain was a junior reporter at the Otago Daily Times, she found Professor Cooper a big-hearted man, able to wrangle the many, and often boisterous, opinions around the area health board table.
He was patient and always available to explain the nuances of a new health policy, Ms Fountain says.