Dr Donald Brownlie

Dr Donald Brownlie (2)Donald was a man with a vision for holistic health care with a tireless energy and a passionate love for the African people.

Donald Brownlie was raised in his family home “the Laurels” in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. It was here that he worked as a School Health Inspector but his heart was in Africa. One of his first comments to his friend Cecil Wilson was; “I cannot stay here and work with healthy children when I know there is so much need in Africa.”

Following Selection and preparation the family were located to Uganda to work at Mengo Hospital in Kampala. This was at a time when Uganda was going through a very difficult time in its history. Donald’s first Link Letter reflects the situation. He wrote:

“One of the major problems is that there has been no running water in Kampala for about seven years” and thus began a project, supported by his many friends and link churches in Ireland to provide and install a water system on Namirembie Hill where the hospital is located. That first letter concluded with:

‘It appears that the country is still very unsettled. There are many refugees living around Kampala, and there is lawlessness, shootings and killings, widespread corruption and a shortage of basic commodities. It is said that a bar of soap fetches £8 on the black market’

As a medical student, between 1989 and 1990, I did my elective at Mengo Hospital in Kampala. I was introduced to Dr Donald Brownlie by my uncle John Gibson Scott …

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This was the main ward in Mengo hospital where I did my wee best to help the tireless Dr Brownlie:

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I assisted Dr Brownlie in the surgical theatre. Rats ran around our feet. I really did not know what I was doing I just learned on the go surrounded by blood. We had a few deaths on the surgical table. I am afraid I cannot talk about these as the hurt is too great:

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I do not believe that I understood it at the time but I was also very frightened. There was so much death all around us, in many cases children and young adults.

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At the Church of Uganda Guest House I played cards and “pass the pig”. The Ugandans were so very friendly and I was made to feel so incredibly welcome.

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Dr Brownlie with his family relocated to Malawi  where he worked in the David Gordon Hospital in Laws of Livingstonia. Coincidentally, my favourite uncle, Robert Laws Moffat was born in this hospital.

Dr Donald Brownlie

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Here is Donald Brownlie a young man with his family, outside the family home “the Laurels”:

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I will never forget Dr Donald Brownlie. He was a much finer person than I will ever be. Donald Brownlie overcame his fear to work selflessly for the ill and weak of Africa. He was a man of understatement. He had the courage of understanding.

The following photographs of Dr Donald Brownlie were taken by Peter Finlay in 1969 when he was staying with Donald in Kondowe, Malawi. I am most thankful to Peter Finlay for sharing these photographs and for kindly allowing them to be shared more widely in remembrance of Donald who he described as "a truly remarkable man".

It has been important for me to remember Dr Brownlie and the many lives that he saved.

Dr Donald Brownlie (13)

6 Replies to “Dr Donald Brownlie”

  1. Some memories of Dr Brownlie
    In Livingstonia we met a Protestant missionary doctor, Dr Donald Brownlie, who much impressed me. He had been there for some years, though a few weeks later he would be expelled from Malawi on the trumped up charge of performing an abortion. He went on to work in Mengo hospital in Kampala, I think. He belonged to the Reverend Ian Paisley’s church and had, apparently, at one meeting, told him to consider that he might be wrong. It was difficult at the time to imagine this gentle man having any effect on Ian Paisley, but, looking back now, we do know that Paisley eventually changed his course. This doctor, brought up, presumably, to hate Roman Catholics, went out of his way to be friendly. “Kindness is all,” he said to me. That phrase has stayed with me, in both a horizontal and a vertical sense. In the horizontal sense, all we human beings, black and white, male and female, Protestant and Roman Catholic, are of the same “kind”; our divisions, as Paul would have it, reconciled in Christ. In the vertical sense, by taking on our nature, God had in Christ made himself of the same “kind” as us, inviting us to belong to his “kindred”. This “kindness”, however is not won at a cheap price, but cost the life of God’s own son. Sin and evil are real and active in our world. The man who told me that “kindness is all” would, within a fortnight, be expelled from a country in which he had invested his whole life for a decade.

  2. I met this very lovely man in October 1969. I was working with the United Church of Zambia and had taken off on my Honda 50 for a break. My wee bike struggled up the 20 hairpin bends to Kondowe or Livingstonia and that same night Donald was welcoming me and I stayed with him in the Stone House for two weeks. He was such a very friendly man. Just 2 memories I will recount. The first in the back of a little truck. He was sitting on the floor surrounded by about 20 patients returning from treatment in the Robert Gordon Hospital. And as we descended all the 2000 feet to the lakeshore they were all singing hymns with great gusto – and Donald was absolutely simply like one of them. In a lakeshore mud house ‘clinic’ I can see him with his stethoscope, hens busy scratching away around patient and doctor! The second memory about a week later. Donald at breakfast looking drained and grey. And he was drained – literally. He had been up all night with a woman losing masses of blood in childbirth. No stored bottles of blood then in northern Malawi. Donald’s amazing answer was to transfuse his own blood directly into the woman, He was not the kind of man you ever could forget. He served his God and his neighbours with the devotion of a true Christian. I thank God I had the privilege of that time with him.

    1. Dearest Peter,
      Thank you for sharing these special memories of a very special man. I wish I could go back in time and hug him. I was too shy as a medical student! I am not sure if Donald would have liked that or not. He was the most selfless man that I have ever met.

      Thank you for sharing your memories of Dr Donald Brownlie.

      aye Peter
      Bridge of Allan,

    2. You write: “There are very few photos of Donald Brownlie”. I have a number of photos I took of Donald when I stayed with him in Livingstonia in 1969 and would gladly share them. I would need an email address to send them to if that could be sent me. Looking forward to hearing from you.


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