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Pat Nickson Obituary: Church Times

by Philippa Skinner May 2009









Rev. Doctor Patricia Nickson, PhD, OBE

Community Health Pioneer and Pastor


Pat Nickson was an inspiration to all who knew her. Born into a loving home, the fourth of five children, she took herself to the local church where she enjoyed the music that remained a passion all her life. When her father died, Pat was sent to the Royal Masonic School in Rickmansworth. She particularly enjoyed the chapel services, and it was here that she came to have faith in God.


Her mother died six years later and Pat was fostered by the vicar of St. John’s, Polegate, the church she attended as a child. She was introduced to the idea of mission and enjoyed meeting the missionaries who sometimes came to stay. She listened to their stories and realised that an outdoor, pioneering life might suit her well.


Following her training in nursing and midwifery, Pat went to Australia to work among aboriginal people, to test her call to overseas mission. This was the beginning of the journey that marked her life and ministry for the years to come. Pat began to understand that there was more to helping people than just taking her expertise and Western medicines. She needed first to listen to the people, to see them holistically, and to discover how they related to and understood their environment, history and culture.


She returned to England in 1971 to attend the CMS training college, Crowther Hall. Now a CMS partner, she was soon on her way to Afghanistan. In this remote and politically unsettled country she carried on doing what she did best- building relationships with the villagers and her co-workers, winning their trust and listening to their needs, while delivering health care in the most stretching of conditions. Her mode of transport was her beloved horse, Foxbury, the safest and often only way to get around.


A move to Bangladesh in 1975 saw her running a rural health programme and developing her expertise. She quickly acquired a variety of surgical skills, from emergency caesarean sections to the rewiring of fractured jaws- on one occasion using fuse wire which she first needed to wipe clean of engine oil.


In 1982 Pat was posted to Eastern Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she worked until 2004. She had several posts, including Director of Medical Services for the Anglican Church of Zaire and Consultant for Africa for the World Council of Churches. She also completed a PhD with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, where she held a faculty position.


In 1992, Pat founded IPASC, the Pan- African Institute of Community Health. Despite many terrible experiences, notably in 2002 when the whole complex was destroyed in inter-tribal conflict and many students and staff family members killed, IPASC remains strong and an inspiration to many. Following the massacre the institute relocated from Nyankunde to Aru in North- Eastern DR Congo, while the university campus remained in Bunia. Pat stayed beside her colleagues through the years of war, enduring the suffering with them. IPASC, under both Pat’s and Congolese leadership is truly ‘a resurrection community’. In 2005, Pat was awarded an OBE for her services to Africa.


In 2004, Pat was ordained into the Anglican ministry and took on new responsibilities while retaining an active involvement with IPASC and her work in DR Congo. She returned to England to work in St. Mary’s, Upton, Wirral, one of many parishes that had supported her.


The values that marked her work in rural village communities across the world remained the same in England. To the end, Pat was deeply concerned for others, listening intently to their stories with great respect and attention.


She was remarkable, not just because she achieved great things in her life against the odds, not just because of her extraordinary courage, but also because of her deep empathy and care for the ordinary, everyday concerns of the people she lived amongst.


Pat was pre-deceased by her brother George in 2003 and is survived by her brother Gordon, and her sisters, Elizabeth and Marion (known as Nikki).


The Reverend Doctor Pat Nickson was born on July 7th, 1944 and died on 26th April, 2009, aged 64.