OBITUARY : Dr Arthur Hughes

Dr Arthur Hughes was known as the Schweitzer of Assam. He was an unassuming medical missionary who, in his 30 years in the Khasi Hills, north-east India, from 1939 to 1969, made the Welsh Mission Hospital in Shillong a beacon of hope for rich and poor alike. They flocked to his out-patient clinics and to be operated on by him.

Hughes gave up a brilliant academic career at Liverpool University and the Hospitals of Liverpool (Northern and Southern) to be a medical missionary. His parents, the Rev Howell Harris Hughes and Mrs Myfanwy Hughes, were keenly interested in the missionary witness, and were well acquainted with their denomination's involvement in Assam since 1841. From its early days the Church had been unable to send many medical missionaries. Arthur Hughes was the seventh. When he applied in 1938 there was rejoicing that Dr Gordon Roberts would have a helping hand at the hospital he had established in 1922.

Arriving in 1939 in Shillong with his wife Nancy, Hughes was soon involved in the work, and in 1942 took over from Roberts as well as caring for the wounded of the Burma Road. He achieved miracles in that period, from 1942 to 1945, treating thousands of Indian, British and American wounded officers and men.

Hughes raised the standards of midwifery, as well as teaching one of his staff, Dr Drinsing Hynniewta, the skills of maternity surgery so that he became well known throughout India; he revolutionised the life of the Bhoi villagers, succeeding to a remarkable extent in eradicating malaria, and set up a travelling dispensary which later became the beginning of the Rural Health Centre movement.

Hughes had many firsts to his name - he was the first surgeon in north India to introduce vagus nerve resection in the treatment of duodenal ulcers, the first to recognise rickets in the infant population of the Khasi-Jainta hills, and the first doctor in Assam to recognise protein calorie deficiency which he called malignant hypo-proeinaemia.

He was a surgeon of exceptional qualities, kind, with a deep religious faith, and during his leadership the Mission Hospital in Shillong became one of the greatest medical institutions in India. A tireless activist, he served at least a dozen social, medical, nursing, welfare organisations, and the inhabitants of Shillong still remember the fact that their Blood Bank was created by him.

He was also a leader in the religious life of the people, serving as an elder from 1944, and the Shillongites in their hundreds, as well as the hillmen, met on 14 May 1969 to bid the Hugheses farewell. Fortunately he was able to revisit them on two occasions, and to address a congregation of nearly 300,000 in the open air at the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the mission work in 1991.

The following year he was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, an honour he shared with his twin brother, the Rev John Harris Hughes of Pontypridd, who was elected some 17 years earlier.

D. Ben Rees

Robert Arthur Hughes, medical missionary: born Oswestry 3 December 1910; John Rankin Fellow in Human Anatomy, Liverpool University 1934-35; FRCS (England) 1937; Senior Medical Officer, Khasi Hills Welsh Mission Hospital 1942-69; OBE 1962; Sub Dean in the Faculty of Medicine, Liverpool University 1969-76; married 1939 Nancy Wright (one son); died Liverpool 1 June 1996.

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