Obituary: Rev Dr John Wilkinson, 96

John/Jack Wilkinson
John/Jack Wilkinson
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A PHYSICIAN and minister of the Church of Scotland who served in North Africa during the Second World War has died aged 96.

Rev Dr John Wilkinson, known as Jack, grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne attending the local Church of Scotland where he found his calling to be a missionary doctor.

He studied medicine at Edinburgh, sponsored by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS), graduating in July 1941.

However, he felt called to the ordained ministry and so began a divinity course at New College.

In 1942, he was commissioned as a medical officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and served with the 8th Army in North Africa and Italy.

Rev Dr Wilkinson later completed his theology degree in 1961.

On a trip to Iona for prospective mission candidates, he met Jean Ewan, who was preparing to go to Kenya to teach and who went there six months ahead of him.

In September 1946, Jack was posted to Tumutumu hospital, in central Kenya, where Jean was also working. A year later she moved to Kikuyu to start the first all-girl secondary school for Kenyans, and Jack was moved to Kikuyu hospital a few months later. They married in 1949.

For 13 years Jack and Jean moved house every single year. He was known as Dr Kamwana – “the young doctor”.

As the only doctor, he had to cope with any medical, surgical, obstetric or paediatric problem that came to the hospital, but his preferred area was medicine. He still found time to study the disease onyalai, common in the area at the time, research that gained him the degree Doctor of Medicine from Edinburgh University in 1956.

He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1972 and also became clerk to the Overseas Presbytery of Kenya.

He worked in Chogoria hospital from 1961-65 and Kikuyu hospital from 1966-75. He was foundation chairman of the Protestant Churches Medical Association of Kenya for 13 years where he worked closely with the Ministry of Health.

In 1975, he and Jean returned to Edinburgh after almost 30 years in Kenya. Jack worked as a community medicine specialist with the Lothian Health Board from 1975-88. He took a particular interest in the health needs of the homeless, linking back to his experiences as a medical student working in the Cowgate. He became a Member of the Faculty of Community Medicine in 1979 and was a member of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, whose meetings he attended as long as he was able.

When Jean’s health deteriorated, he nursed her until she died in 2008, with support from family and carers. They were married for 59 years.

Rev Dr Wilkinson was admitted into Marian House Care Home 15 months ago. His first great-grandchild was born two weeks before he died on January 17.