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Dr Kathleen Owen Donovan 1931 - 2014

(submitted by Dr Margaret Payne)

 Kath was a very intelligent, thoughtful, highly respected and lovely lady, a joy to know.  She was a Life Member of CMDFA.

Kath was the daughter of a noted Sydney doctor, but initially showed no interest in pursuing medicine as a career, preferring other academic interests.  She chose Agricultural Science at Sydney University in which she graduated with first class honours and the University Medal. On an offered scholarship, she then pursued research for a PhD in Scotland on the serology of milk.  Whilst in Edinburgh she became homesick and lonely and went to church,  where she came to hear the Gospel of Christ, after being challenged to “seek and you will find,’ and was soundly converted.  She pursued the question of Christ’s claims on her life and came to believe that the most practical way was to serve Him was as a missionary doctor, so returned to Australia and much to the surprise of her friends,  enrolled in the Medical Faculty at  Sydney University, again graduating with First Class Honours in 1962.  This was  followed by residency and other training,  someone describing her as “the best resident medical officer  they had ever had”!

With that academic and personal history, Kath could have pursued any field of medicine which took her interest.  But she pursued the path of her previous resolution and in 1966 proceeded to Balimo in the Western District of Papua New Guinea to a small, primitive Government hospital, consisting mainly of a few thatched huts where she became the first full-time doctor. 
I first met Kath as a medical student in 1965 and we became friends.  She was  then  preparing to go  to PNG with Asia Pacific Christian Mission (later known as ‘Pioneers’), as was her friend Barbara Ellis who was planning to go to Rumginae, some distance north.

  In 1967, as a final year medical student, I had the privilege of doing a medical elective term with Kath and her nursing team in Balimo, which was life changing for me.   There the facilities and equipment were quite basic - the ‘ward’ was a large single shed in which patients and family were ‘bedded’ on mats on the floor.  Around the periphery of the building was dug a drain which operated as the sewerage system.  I found it very difficult for the first few days to go into the ward with its strong, pervading odours of people, food, and excrement without heaving, but gradually became accustomed, as obviously the local medical attendants had!

The climate was oppressively hot, the mosquitoes were huge, and sleeping under mosquito nets was essential, as was the religious taking of anti-malarials!  All of us episodically experienced gastro-intestinal disturbances and lost weight.  Virtually all the patients experienced exacerbations of their malaria, on top of their other medical problem!  Kath became an expert on malaria and wrote a textbook thereon.

Kath was amazing.  As a lone medical person she did an incredible job.  She coped with a huge variety of medical problems, anything from obstetric complications to animal or spear attack trauma, malignancy and anything in between.  She coped with a daily medical ‘sked’ involving radio communications with many out-stations, which involved making many huge, far-reaching  decisions about treatment  or transfer.

Of particular note for me was Kath’s equanimity in all of these stressful situations.  An attitude of firmness, yet gentleness was repeatedly evident, together with that beautiful smile and good humour.  Kath had the ability to encourage with positive comments her colleagues who offered her their utmost in loyalty and encouragement.  

Kath had a regular habit of devotional Bible study and reading as essential to a close walk with God, which was reflected in her regular Newsletters to friends, family and supporters.  Often one would see quotes from such people as Derek Kidner which were relevant to her thinking at that time.

After seventeen years as Medical Superintendent, she left a well-appointed 100 bed hospital staffed with a team of dedicated health workers, a registered Nurses Training School, and a network of supervised Aid Posts covering a wide area.  In 1975, during the Independence Celebrations, Kath was awarded the Papua New Guinea Medal of Honour for services to the country.

After returning to Australia permanently in 1983, Kath and her friend, Ruth Myors, a trained psychologist, established the Christian Synergy Centre,  a ministry mainly to missionaries and other Christian workers, Kath concentrating on medical aspects and Ruth on the psychological.  During this time, Kath authored a very helpful book – “Growing Through Stress”.  For a time they lectured in Pastoral Care at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.

For many years after their return to Australia, Kath and a group of friends took holidays each January at our holiday house in the beautiful Bellingen Valley.  The lady next door commented to me on her delight at the sounds of joyous peels of laughter which used to emanate from the house during that time.  When the house was sold, some of those friends bemoaned the fact that those holiday times had come to an end.  In contrast, I heard it said that Kath encouraged them rather to give thanks for the many times they had been able to enjoy that facility,  rather than bemoan the fact that it was no longer available.  This was typical of Kath’s philosophy and outlook!

In her last few years, Kath was beset with severe Alzheimers disease, ultimately requiring institutional care.  Even then, her quiet, caring spirit shone through the confusion, and everyone loved her.

What a huge privilege to have known Kath Donovan as a friend, tutor and encourager – a great yet humble lady and godly disciple of Jesus, her Lord.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have entered into His rest”.