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Oration honouring Dr. Dawn Howse

Thursday, May 27, 10 a.m.

Bungee jumping involves a leap of faith. With one small step, you plummet headlong into an experience praying all the while that the preparations were adequate, the supports will hold, the harness will not slip, and perhaps that there are no crocodiles lurking in the waters below. And then, when you reach the end, you bob up and down a few times, until you are winched back to where it all started. Some will thank God for their safe return and then get right back in line to take another jump or seek a new adventure.

In a way, bungee jumping is a metaphor for the life of Major Dr. Dawn Howse.
Perhaps no one at this convocation should be surprised to learn that the woman standing before you plunged 110 metres from the bridge at Victoria Falls, zip-lined over the Zambezi River gorge and flew in a hot air balloon. Above all else, Dawn Howse is a woman of faith.

Sharing common initials with television’s precocious Doogie Howser, MD, Dawn Howse completed medical school at the age of 21, one of Memorial’s youngest medical graduates ever. After a year’s internship she practised medicine at Woody Point and then Corner Brook. Following some additional training in tropical medicine and then, with her metaphorical bungee cord securely fastened to her family, faith and training, she made the leap. Dawn House made a promise to God and committed twenty years of medical practice to underserviced areas of Zimbabwe under the auspices of the Salvation Army.

For most of those 20 years, Dr. Dawn was the only doctor in the rural district hospital in Tshelanyemba, Zimbabwe that served almost 50,000 people. Tshelanyemba is located in the hot and arid southwest of Zimbabwe near the borders of Botswana and South Africa. Others suggest that it borders on hope and despair, but regardless of its coordinates, Tshelanyemba and its people can be found deep in the heart of Dr. Dawn Howse. Although it is almost impossible to put her experiences in a context that we can fully understand, a similar number of Canadians, on average, are served by 100 physicians. Functionally, this means that Dr. Dawn was on call 24/7 in an area ravaged by one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS on the planet, an area where orphans and poverty abound, yet food and other basic needs are in short supply.

Dr. Howse’s career in Zimbabwe serves as a template for the perfect medical school curriculum in which the medical expert also demonstrates competency as a scholar, professional, advocate, communicator, collaborator and manager. In working with a steady stream of patients from early morning to late in the evening, Dr. Dawn was a teacher to nursing students, patients and their families. She represented her hospital in professional associations and was a tireless advocate for her patients in Zimbabwe and abroad. Quite likely, a number of people at this convocation supported some of the many projects and appeals that were initiated or promoted by her. On her occasional “furloughs” back to Newfoundland and Labrador, she was always eager to obtain the latest techno gadget which she could then use to obtain up-to-date information or use to communicate and consult with colleagues in Canada or elsewhere. As a manager, when the electrical generator needed diesel fuel, it was Dr. Dawn who took the truck the many kilometres across the border to Botswana, making sure to fill it first considering the needs of others, indulging herself only with the occasional bar of dark chocolate on a space available basis.

After 20 years, and just like a bungee jumper, she was reeled back home, and for the past two years has practised medicine in our province. That, however, has not severed her connections with Zimbabwe or other people in need. She continues her support of Tshelanyemba in a variety of important, but quiet ways, and in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti earlier this year, she did not hesitate to volunteer her services in the most underprivileged country in the New World.

Chancellor, standing before this convocation is a humanitarian who, endowed with unwavering religious conviction has taken the finest ideals of our university and our medical school and used her knowledge, skills and gifts in a part of the world where they were most needed. For this reason, Mr. Chancellor, I am privileged to present Glennis Dawn Howse for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Dr. Donald McKay
University orator