Monday, January 7, 2013

In Memory: Audrey Isabel Mckenzie

Audrey Isabel was the first-born child of John and May Mckenzie

Thanks to Dr Edward Gale for sharing his memories of his Mother:

Audrey was born 9 January 1900 in Estcourt, Natal. At the time of her birth, her father was with the British forces (Natal Carbineers) in the siege of Ladysmith. She attended Dundee High School (co-ed) and was a keen horsewoman, a good rider. She did a BSc at the Natal University College in Maritzburg (later it became the Natal University) in 1922. She met her future husband there. He qualified M Sc in the same year in order to gain scholarships and other sponsorships to study medicine in Edinburgh. They became engaged but had to part for 4 years, the only contacts been letters which took 3 weeks each way by mail ship. Who says long-distance relationships don’t work?

My mother, during those years, taught at various schools in Vryheid and Dundee, I think largely maths and arithmetic. They married in Dundee in August 1926 and went to Edinburgh, where my father qualified as a doctor in 1927, a few days before my brother Roy was born. He won various prizes, including an essay prize on Lister which was open to anyone in the U.K. (the Great Britain) and the Commonwealth.

They returned to SA as medical missionaries with the Church of Scotland in 1928 to the Gordon Memorial Mission Station (which had not been medical) near Pomeroy. There was only one other doctor in Pomeroy, and my mother often had to act as an emergency anesthetist under guidance from my father. I understand that there were no fatalities. She was also seamstress and made all of the hospital linen. There was no money. We lived in an old stone cottage on a rocky koppie alive with snakes. She had many snake stories to tell. I was born I the cottage in 1929 and to this day can puzzle nearly everyone with the name of my birthplace. We moved to Tugela Ferry after 4 years because of the water shortages.

Tugela Ferry was an idyllic existence for us and a very happy time for my parents, who together built up the Church of Scotland hospital there (founded by my father), which now has over 300 beds and an international reputation for its work on XR (extremely resistant) TB which is so common in the Msinga District. That romantic valley seems to have a life-long hold over people who have lived there and who know it. I can tell you stories about that. It’s an extraordinary place and we were all heartbroken to have to leave it in 1936.

My parents went to Alice in the Cape, where Dad had an appointment at the Fort Hare University, but fell out with the authorities over the fact that they were trying to train medical assistants (barefoot doctors), he thought that black doctors should be in no way inferior. We moved to Maritzburg and then to Benoni, where Dad was M.O.H. (Medical Officer of Health) under the municipalities. My mother was busy bringing up a family. At the end of 1938, we moved to Pretoria for another very happy spell where all 3 children (Elsa was born in Dundee in 1933) attended good government schools, and my mother under to do extra maths lessons privately. I remember her cycling the streets of Pretoria to go to her pupils’ homes. Some would come to ours. Dad had become the Chief Health Officer for the whole country (Secretary for Health).

Early in 1952, he founded the Medical School in Durban and was the first full-time Dean. We moved to Westville. My parents then moved to Kampala, Uganda in 1955 (Dad was Professor of Preventative Medicine). My mother enjoyed that as she was close to Elsa, who was then living in Kenya. They later moved to Bangkok, Thailand in 1960 and thereafter to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). They retired to London in July 1964 but a few months later Dad was offered a post in Malaysia, which is when he became visiting Prof. of Preventative Medicine in Kuala Lumpur. They finally settled in full retirement in Surbiton, Tirkin in 1969.

It was while there were living there that Elsa’s 2 eldest daughters were killed in an air disaster in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They were returning to school in England and the plane crashed immediately after take-off, witnessed by their parents, Elsa and Bill, and young sister Harriet. The family has coped with amazing courage, but of course life was not the same thereafter.

Dad died in London in 1975 and my mother stayed on in Surbiton, bravely independent and coping excellently. She was able to see Elsa and Roy & families frequently, Elsa been about 90 miles away in Malmesbury, and Roy and family living in London. Although Mom and Dad had visited South Africa from time to time while they were living in London, my mother never returned after he died – but I was able to visit her almost yearly, thanks to sponsored trips to meetings. She moved to a flat in Malmesbury around 1995 and remained independent and active until she was 95 years old. I think it was during 1995 that she had to move to a retirement home, where she lived for a number of months, and died quietly at age 96 while sitting up waiting for a cup of tea.

Audrey married George William Gale and they had three children:
John Frederick Roy b. 17 July 1927 d Apr 2005
George Edward b 9 June 1929
Audrey Elsa b. 22 January 1933
Audrey's last visit to Dundee, South Africa - date unkown.
BLR: Barbara, Victor, Mary, Ralph, Audrey, Duncan, John, Edith / FLR: Janet, Grace

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