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Obituary: Anne Phillips

11 September 2020

Professor Chris Calladine writes:

ANNE PHILLIPS, who died on 31 July, aged 90, was a missionary doctor who devoted almost 40 years of her life to caring for the sick in Nigeria. She worked mostly in or around the eastern city of Onitsha.

Anne was brought up in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire. When she was seven, her curiosity was roused by the family’s CMS missionary box, in the form of a circular African hut: she learned about the poor people who lived in these primitive dwellings, and were helped by missionary doctors and teachers. At Nottingham Girls’ High School, she decided on a medical career, and at Birmingham University she met John Phillips at a CMS meeting; he was training to be a teacher.

Anne embarked on her career soon after marrying John in 1954. They first spent three years in Onitsha: she worked at Iyi-Enu Mission Hospital, and quickly discovered how to practise medicine with only basic facilities, while John taught at the local church grammar school.

In 1958, they moved to Emevor, a remote village in the Niger Delta, where John became headmaster of a newly founded boys’ boarding grammar school. Anne set up a village clinic, with funds provided by Cecil Patterson, Bishop on the Niger. It attracted patients from a wide area, including eight different language groups. Her clinic helpers between them could understand all eight; but sometimes patients speaking a ninth language, Ijaw, would arrive after a 30-mile, three-day walk. Fortunately, one of the schoolboys, Tom, came from that area; and he could help. Chronic anaemia was a great problem.

Anne trained boys to be “medical prefects”, to deal with the minor ailments of other boys: several of these, including Tom, became doctors. She also trained boys to be Sunday-school teachers, and equipped them with bicycles to visit churches near by; several became ministers, including a bishop.

It was here that Anne accumulated many of her 40 godchildren, from among boys who were confirmed. She was regarded as an honorary mother by the boys.

During the Biafran war, Anne and John took temporary posts in Sierra Leone and central Nigeria. In 1971, after the war, they returned to Onitsha, where Iyi-Enu hospital was being rebuilt after near-destruction, and longstanding programmes for training midwives and nurses were being restored.

From 1978 to 1987, Anne was the hospital’s medical superintendent; on her watch, the hospital’s teaching programme was enlarged to include a postgraduate course for general practitioners.

In 1982, she hosted a visit to the hospital by Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, accompanied by Terry Waite and Richard Chartres: great crowds thronged the hospital compound.

After 1987, she became director of diocesan medical services, supervising seven rural hospitals and health centres: she visited them all regularly, to support their local nursing staff.

The couple retired to Sheffield, where John died suddenly in 1995. Anne worked in general practice, chaired the local Sue Ryder group, and became deputy churchwarden of the cathedral. Her last five years were spent in Cambridge.

A kind, considerate lady with a great sense of humour, she was a help to many, in the name of the Lord.

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