For 50 years, Dr Esther Davis (1919-2011) served God in a country thousands of miles away from her home in Northern Ireland. Her legacy is continuing to this day. Here we share just a small part of her story...
Esther Davis graduated from Queens University, Belfast, as a doctor in 1943. After some time working in general practice in Portadown, she felt God calling her to overseas’ mission work.
In 1947, she applied to work with Qua Iboe Mission (QIM, now Mission Africa) and in September of that year she was accepted for service as a missionary doctor. Soon after, she travelled by ship to Nigeria and began working as a doctor at Etinan Hospital in Akwa Ibom State in southern Nigeria, very close to the hospital in Ekpene Obom where she was later to have such an impact.
Initially, Esther worked as a general doctor, with her interest in leprosy and compassion for leprosy patients developing later in her missionary career.
In 1951, Esther suffered her first bout of serious ill health, something that was to plague her throughout her time overseas. As a result, she was the first missionary working for QIM to be evacuated by air.
After a period of recuperation at home in Northern Ireland, she returned to Nigeria in 1952, this time to the Qua Iboe Church (QIC) Leprosy Referral Hospital at Ekpene Obom. It was there that she saw first-hand the devastating effects of leprosy. In a letter to the QIM council, she expressed her interest in learning more about the disease.
Later that decade Esther returned to work at Etinan, but never lost her interest in the needs of the patients in Ekpene Obom.
While on furlough in 1959, Esther asked for a dedicated doctor to be sent to QIC Leprosy Hospital in Ekpene Obom, but there were simply no other missionary doctors available at that time.
In 1962, thanks to study fellowships awarded by the World Health Organisation, she spent time in India and Ethiopia acquiring new skills in the care and treatment of leprosy and learning the techniques of advanced leprosy surgery. In 1964, she returned to Etinan Hospital as Chief Medical Officer.
Sadly, in 1965 her health broke down and she had to be repatriated. After a period of recuperation, she returned to Nigeria and, in 1965, was sent to Ochadamu in central Nigeria, were she taught the Chief Medical Officer the finer points of leprosy treatment.
In 1970 she returned to Portadown to care for her ailing father and subsequently spent a few years back home. However, she continued to receive news from Ekpene Obom and in 1973 QIM organised for Esther to visit the hospital. During this time, Esther’s links with The Leprosy Mission grew and she urged the council of QIM to form closer links with TLM.
In 1977, she returned to Nigeria and worked at the hospital in Ekpene Obom for the next 11 years until her retirement in 1988.
Thanks to Esther’s encouragement and vision, TLM and QIM worked together to develop the transformational work that Esther had started. This resulted in Ekpene Obom becoming a capable and modern establishment providing the highest quality of care to leprosy patients.
In a busy and active retirement, Dr Esther Davis continued to make visits to Ekpene Obom, sometimes for many months at a time. Her other achievement in retirement was the creation of Friends of Ekpene Obom, a support group that prayed and raised money for the hospital, ensuring that patients and staff there were not forgotten.
As well as her medical expertise, Esther’s Christian commitment was an inspiration to all who met her. In all her communication with QIM, she did not ask for anything for herself.
She asked only for more help for her patients, demonstrating her unshakeable commitment to them.
On her return to Portadown in 1988, she was awarded an OBE for her services in the treatment of leprosy, something that gave her great satisfaction; she felt that she had won the award on behalf of everyone at the hospital. Her former colleagues and patients were delighted to hear her award announced on Nigerian radio. An occasion that illustrates the legacy that Dr Esther Davis left, a legacy that continues to this day with the opening of the new ward at Qua Iboe Church Leprosy Referral hospital in Esther Davis’ name.
Dr Esther Davis’ family at a recent TLM supporter event celebrating Esther’s legacy in Nigeria.