Posthumous medal awarded to midwife 'Doctora Latifa'

Canadian Gertrude Dyck, who died last year, was awarded the medal for her 38-year tenure at Oasis Hospital, in Al Ain, which began in 1962.

"Al Ain was home to Gert and she loved the people and the country with a passion." Courtesy Oasis Hospital

AL AIN // A Canadian nurse who served alongside the founders of the first hospital in the region has been posthumously honoured with the Medal of Independence of the Third Order, bestowed by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

The award to Gertrude Dyck was presented by Dr Hadef al Dhaheri, Minister of Justice, on behalf of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and chairman of the National Centre for Documentation and Research (NCDR). The decoration was presented to Ernest Dyck, Gertrude's 81-year-old brother.

In a ceremony held on November 28 on the sidelines of the Memoirs of the Emirates Through Oral Narratives seminar at the NCDR, a section dedicated to Dyck's memory was unveiled in the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall, which was officially inaugurated on the same day.

"The awarding of the medal should serve as a motivation for all historians and researchers who enriched the history of the UAE with their contributions, documents and photos," said Dr al Dhaheri, on behalf of Sheikh Mansour.

Mr Dyck expressed his gratitude to Sheikh Khalifa and said the honour demonstrated the UAE's hospitality and generosity - as well as its thanks. "The medal," Mr Dyck said, "will remain as one of the established bridges between the East and the West, and a symbol of tolerance which prevails in the UAE."

During her many years as a midwife at Oasis Hospital, Dyck became affectionately known by the locals she served as "Doctora Latifa". Latifa means gentle, merciful and kind.

She died in British Columbia at the age of 75 on October 17 last year, her life filled with a variety of rich experiences, mostly in a culture foreign to her own. Dyck served as midwife to many of the 90,000 babies born at Oasis Hospital during her 38-year tenure starting in 1962, and several of the deliveries were members of the Royal Family.

"Gert sacrificed being with family for the holidays and many special occasions," her brother said. "She missed seeing her nieces and nephews growing up. Because of her commitment to the mission, she also missed the opportunity to marry and have a family of her own. But, Al Ain was home to Gert, and she loved the people and the country with a passion."

News of Doctora Latifa being honoured with the Medal of Independence was this week met with pride and humility by Oasis Hospital staff.

"We are humbled to serve at Oasis Hospital, which was the foundation for the service of Doctora Latifa to the people of Abu Dhabi," said David Printy, the chief executive at the hospital. "Her deep love for the people of this land and her respect of God guided her service to each patient that came to Oasis Hospital. This award speaks of the deep affection that the Rulers of this nation have for this truly amazing lady.

"As Oasis Hospital celebrates its 50th year, the fond memories of Gertrude Dyck continue to guide our service to the citizens of the UAE."

When Drs Pat and Marion Kennedy arrived in the UAE in 1961 to open a clinic in Al Ain at the invitation of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, they had three children. One, Dr Scott Kennedy, holds fond memories of the woman he called "Auntie Gert".

"We always knew how to find our mother at the hospital - just call Auntie Gert. She was consistently found at my mother's side on the obstetrical ward and in the bustling clinics for the women and children," Dr Kennedy recalled.

"One of the hallmarks of this female medical tandem is what they did after-duty hours. They made house calls on a regular basis to visit the ill and needy, out to the sand dunes with the Bedouin, or over to the palaces with the sheikhs. As young children, we were given glimpses into a rich culture that eventually captivated Doctora Latifa and made her more of an Emirati than a North American.

"That she came to love the local culture was evident to all who heard her speak about it and [her] insights on the women of Abu Dhabi. For me, December will always be remembered through the eyes of a little boy listening from the front row, as Gertrude Dyck sang the most beautiful rendition of O Holy Night at the annual Oasis Hospital Christmas service. She had a magnificent voice."

The beautiful 'Auntie Gert'

Al Ain was never to be the same. Camels, goats, gazelles, dhubs and hedgehogs may not have noticed, but when Gertrude Dyck arrived in 1962, there was a big stir over at Al Jahili Fort. At the large fort, Trucial Oman Scouts (unaccompanied British officers) turned their head to see the classy and strikingly beautiful woman who had just arrived from Canada. The impact was just beginning.

Gertrude Dyck was known by the Emiratis as “Doctora Latifa”, but to us, the Kennedy children, she was known as “Auntie Gert”. She arrived two years after my parents started their medical work in Al Ain and from that point onwards, she was essentially inseparable from our household through professional and personal ties.

* Dr Scott Kennedy