Beat Richner, a Swiss paediatric doctor and cellist famous for his work in Cambodia, has died at the age of 71 after a serious illness, his foundation said on Sunday.
Zurich-born Richner, also well known in Switzerland by his nickname of Beatocello, moved to Phnom Penh in 1992, where he rebuilt the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital at the request of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk after the civil war.
He was honoured in Cambodia last year for his work treating sick children for free. Beat Richner regularly gave concerts in Switzerland to present his work in Cambodia and raise money for it.
His illness had however obliged him to hand over the management of the children’s hospitals to his deputy Peter Studer.
Dr Beat “Beatocello” Richner, the founder of the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, passed away in his native Switzerland at 2:45am on Sunday after a battle with a serious illness, Minister of Health Mom Bun Heng told The Post on Sunday. He was 71.
“Dr Richner leaves behind an exceptional legacy deserving admiration,” said a Kantha Bopha Foundation statement on Sunday.
“Afflicted by a serious illness, he left Cambodia last year and returned to his native Zurich, where he spent the last months of his life.
“He left everything behind to answer the call of [former king of Cambodia] Norodom Sihanouk, who asked him to rebuild the children’s hospital in Phnom Penh, destroyed during the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge,” it said.
Bun Heng said: “I am very regretful and deeply mourning the death of Dr Beat Richner, the founder of Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals. I will organise a formal memorial for Richner at 3pm [on Monday] at the Ministry of Health.”
Regarding the memorial for Richner, the minister said it will be open to the public.
However, “those wishing to pay their respects should notify the ministry to avoid a situation where everybody comes at the same time . . . as space at the ministry is very tight”.
Bun Heng added: “We are very sad. We have lost one of the strongest supporters to have helped Cambodia, and [a man who] saved [millions] of Cambodian children’s lives.”
Kantha Bopha Foundation deputy director Dr Denis Laurent said he would be meeting with his team at the Kantha Bopha hospital on Monday and organise a traditional Cambodian memorial.
“Regarding the Kantha Bopha hospital, I have told my team [and] we will meet [on Monday] morning. We will organise a ceremony,” Dr Laurent said.
Richner “stepped down from his position as managing director of the Kantha Bopha hospitals in Cambodia” on March 28, last year, according to the Foundation of Children’s Hospitals Kantha Bopha. He did not make further public appearances because of his illness.
Richner received his medical degree in 1973 and specialised in paediatrics. He was sent to Cambodia in 1974 and 1975 by the Swiss Red Cross to work at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, according to the Dr Beat Richner website.
He was forced to return to Switzerland and worked at the Zurich Children’s Hospital, his previous posting. In 1980 he opened a practice in Zurich.
In December 1991, Richner was asked by the Cambodian government to rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, which had been destroyed during Cambodia’s civil war, a call he answered.
On September 22, 1992, the Kantha Bopha I hospital was inaugurated in Phnom Penh, with it fully operational on November 2.
Over the following years, the hospital was progressively extended and modified to meet the most urgent needs of its patients.
Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals have been operating for 26 years and have saved the lives of millions of Cambodian children.
A talented and keen cellist, Richner would regularly hold performances to raise funds to support the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, which employ more than 2,500 personnel.