This coming Friday, there will be two funerals I want to attend in order to pay my respects to the deceased and stand with those who were close, as together we mourn their passing and celebrate their lives. Given I cannot be in two places at the same time, I thought I would post a tribute to the one whose funeral I could not attend.
I would be surprised if many outside her close circle will have known Dr. Claire Joseph (for it is she who I wish to write about) and while she will not receive anywhere near the same coverage when we learn about yet another celebrity passing away who I will have known or known of (a daily occurrence these days), I believe in terms of what Claire has contributed throughout her life when it comes to making a difference, it is likely that she will be a match for any of them.
I cannot claim I knew Claire well. There are large areas of her life I know little of, but she made an impact on me personally, especially in one significant way, as well as in the lives of numerous others. In 1983, I felt compelled to travel around India as a backpacker, while between jobs. A mutual friend of Claire and me introduced us and also to Claire’s husband Joseph. Joseph was an Indian (Malayalee) who Claire met when she served as a missionary doctor at Lady Willingdon Hospital in Kulu, Manali (1967-72, 1975-77 – according to the hospital website), situated in the foothills of the Indian Himalayan mountains. My understanding is that Joseph worked in Kulu as an evangelist with the Indian Evangelical Mission. After completing her term at the hospital, Claire and Joseph returned to live in England (Walsall) and brought up two children (Stephen and Simon). Joseph died in 1987. While I had a few communications with Claire, I met her in the flesh only three times – in 1984 (with Joseph), ten years ago, when we took Claire’s niece, husband and children, then visiting the UK, to see her Aunt and cousins and again after that while acting as chauffeur to her niece’s husband.
Going back to what was to be my first of many visits to India, Joseph was keen to point out places I might like to visit, which he knew first hand, and people I might like to see. This included an invitation to stay at the home of his brother (Abraham) who lived in Trivandrum (as far South of India as Kulu is North). When I arrived in Bombay, I had no clear plan of where I would go exactly yet found myself the next day on a train travelling South to Trivandrum and two days later turning up on Abraham’s doorstep, who welcomed me and where I stayed a few days. It was there that I met my future father-in-law (who like Joseph was an evangelist). A few years later I ended up marrying his daughter. So through Claire, not only did I start my lifelong love affair with India but also with one of its daughters.
There is much about Claire’s life and character I know little about. However, it became quite evident from my brief encounters that this was a good lady who was God fearing but also pretty down to earth. I also got a glimpse of what appeared to be a wacky sense of humour. I also found she was wise and gracious and a great host. From what I could make out, she was well involved in her church and community and continued to contribute right to the end, despite health issues. But it was that early life as a missionary doctor in a remote place, not otherwise endowed with medical and educational facilities, working among those of modest means that I find particularly intriguing. I can only imagine what it was that caused a young doctor to make that journey, away from the limelight, home comforts and chance to progress her career, to work in that remote place, for if not Claire then who? As I check out the hospital website, I note that here is a work that has developed and continues to this day, a strong Christian community about it and a good school. I can’t say how much Claire (and Joseph) contributed to this yet I suspect Jesus words “well done good and faithful servant” apply.
Claire will be missed! As one person wrote on her Facebook page: our loss is heaven’s gain. Sorry Claire, I didn’t know you better but thank you on behalf of many for making this world a better place.