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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Rhys Lawson by Steve

One of the most interesting Neighbours characters of recent times, Rhys Lawson last week went to the great hospital in the sky, after two years of plotting, scheming and sarcastic one-liners. Here, we take a look back at his eventful time in Erinsborough…

Rhys’s first few months in Erinsborough saw him doing anything he could to get his own way, in many ways reminiscent of Darcy Tyler, the nephew of Susan Kennedy and another doctor who’d manipulated others, but unlike Darcy, Rhys wasn’t scheming to get rich; he just wanted to move up the career ladder as quickly as possible. He soon showed that other people’s feelings weren’t of his concern, as he broke the heart of Erin Salisbury, who’d been awarded a place on the surgical programme ahead of him. Erin fled Erinsborough to go travelling, and Rhys managed to take the next step in his career, without stopping for a moment to care.

He made few friends during his exploits as a Ramsay Street resident, but there were two women who were very important to Rhys; his mother, Elaine, whose existence he tried to keep to himself for a long time, and Vanessa Villante, the feisty Italian who somehow managed to steal his heart.

Even at work, Rhys rarely let his guard down, only really showing any emotion when he was by Jim Dolan’s side as he succumbed to cancer, and after he had to perform an emergency operation on Chris at the garage, in order to save his life. Unlike most Neighbours characters, Rhys saw no place in his life for heartwarming chats, and wanted nobody to know about his mum, Elaine who suffered from spinal degeneration and was living in a care home. After months of Rhys plotting against other people to move up the career ladder and win a place on the hospital’s surgery program, his chats with his mum showed a more human side to Dr Lawson and he even displayed some guilt as he lied to his housemates about his mum when they paid a visit to the care home. It was through Elaine that we filled in many of the blanks in Rhys’ past, his reasons for becoming a doctor and the emotional walls he put up; his father had been an unpleasant man who had cheated on his mum and walked out on her and his son when her illness was diagnosed.

But it was Vanessa Villante’s arrival on Ramsay Street that really brought out a new side to Rhys, as he fell for her and her cooking. Unfortunately, she was already pregnant with Lucas’s child and, although they weren’t a couple, it would still cause plenty of complications for all three of them as time went on. Gradually learning more about Rhys’s past – and the lengths he’d gone to to move his medical career along – Vanessa was confident that she could change him, having seen a nicer side to his personality when they were alone together. Meanwhile, Lucas had also fallen for Vanessa, but was doing his best to keep his distance, offering comfort to Vanessa as fought with Rhys, then went back to him. It wasn’t until Rhys hurt his hand whilst helping the victims of a car accident that his old ways really returned, as he lied and changed test results on the hospital computers to make sure it didn’t cost him his surgical career. Although Vanessa tried to understand what he’d done, and why he’d done it, as she realised that he’d been lying to her about avoiding doing any surgery at work – and endangering patients’ lives – she told surgeon Jessica Girdwood of her concerns. Rhys was forced to undergo more tests and given the devastating news that he’d never be able to operate. Rhys failed to see how stupid he’d been and blamed Vanessa for the whole thing, ending their relationship. Although his relationship with Vanessa had shown a new side to Rhys, the whole incident proved that nothing would ever come before his career.

Never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, much less to apologise, Rhys simply hung around, waiting for Vanessa to come back to him. As she grew closer to Lucas, and they planned a fake wedding to satisfy her religious parents that the baby wouldn’t be born out of wedlock, Rhys tried to win her back with gifts and grand gestures, and was pleased when she ran out on the wedding without marrying Lucas. However, if Rhys thought that Vanessa would now fall back into his arms, he was sadly mistaken, as she told him where to go.

Rhys still wasn’t about to give up, though, and his luck finally seemed to be in as he was around when Vanessa went into labour. With Lucas down the coast trying to repair Vanessa’s relationship with her parents, it was Rhys who was by her side throughout, and, following the emotional birth, and in another rare glimpse at the romantic that lurked deep within, he proposed. Vanessa accepted, and for at least five episodes, it looked like the love triangle might be resolved, but then baby Patrick was diagnosed with a heart condition, and Vanessa told Rhys that she couldn’t be thinking about him or planning a wedding – she had to focus on her son. Though Rhys continued to cling on to the hope that she'd eventually want to be with him again, he was forced to finally move on when he found out that Vanessa and Lucas had become a couple.

Rhys’s final weeks in Erinsborough also managed to resolve one other issue in his life – his father. Eddie Lawson contacted his son, wanting to speak to him and try to explain the reasons for his terrible behaviour over the years. At first, Rhys wanted nothing to do with him, refusing to even read his father’s letter, but eventually agreed to meet with him. Sadly, in an ironic twist so common in the world of soap opera, Rhys never made it to see his dad, as he died of his injuries sustained in the explosion at Toadie and Sonya’s wedding reception.

Rhys stood out for me because he wasn’t a typical Neighbours character; he was never outright evil, but nor was he particularly friendly to anyone he encountered; indeed, he was the anti-Neighbour. Always ready with a sarcastic reply whenever anyone tried to show him any compassion, Rhys took great joy in being the puppet master, pushing apart his housemates Kyle and Jade when it looked like they might get together and was even quite unsociable, rarely seen in any of the other Ramsay Street houses, other than his own home at number 26. But, despite all that, it was very hard to dislike Rhys and he’ll be missed by many fans, though possibly not by quite so many of his neighbours.