When Great Trees Fall: Eulogy and Tribute to Dr Enid Denbow

Eulogy by Frank Denbow II

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The former Enid Lucille Wilson was born on August 3, 1921 to parents, Edwin and Verleigh Wilson. She was one of three siblings who resided with her parents at Hadfield Street, Georgetown. The young Enid Wilson attended St. Joseph’s High School after which her professional inclinations led her to study nursing at the Georgetown Public Hospital where she earned the highest score nationally at the Nursing and Midwifery exams in 1943 and 1946 respectively. However, this early success was clouded by her losing both parents by the age of twenty-two in the middle of the war years.

At the age of eleven, Enid had met Frank Denbow to whom she then referred as “Mr. Denbow.” To her at that time, he was an adult who had played football for British Guiana at sixteen. She regarded him as a second father, and he in turn advised her to study hard as he felt that she had the potential to achieve great things. More than anyone else, he instilled in her a self-confidence which remained with her throughout her long life. Following the death of her father in 1940 when she was nineteen and her disappointment at failing to land a job in the Lab, it was Frank who had advised her to take up nursing in which she would excel greatly. Frank further encouraged her with his plan for her to go later to the United States to become a doctor. Such thinking on his part was nothing short of revolutionary and feminist—a vision of an ordinary young Black woman becoming a doctor in British Guiana was seldom heard of at that time!

Buoyed by Frank’s encouragement, in 1948 Enid went on to attend Howard University from which she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. In 1949, she and Frank were married in Washington, D.C. After graduation from Howard, she proceeded to the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she earned the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree in 1955. Significantly, while there she won the prestigious Anna Lukens Clinical Prize for Medicine.

1956 marked a new dawn in the colony’s history. Here was a daughter of the soil who had achieved against tremendous odds what to many at the time was an impossibility. Her return was greeted with an outpouring of pride and joy by people across the country. Many women looked up to her and saw in her achievements the hopes and dreams, not so much for themselves, but for their daughters. As a result, the requests for her to be godmother of little girls (even from some of whom she barely knew) were widespread.In 1956 and started work at the Public Hospital as one of the first few female doctors in the country. She later underwent post-graduate training in the United Kingdom, acquiring the coveted Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (MRCPE). Later, she was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (FRCPE). Another of her scholarly accomplishments was a Cardiology Fellowship from the world-recognized Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

What enhances Dr. Denbow’s outstanding accomplishments is that through her strong inspiration I also became a Medical Doctor, and followed closely in her professional footsteps by acquiring Membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

Returning to work in Guyana, Dr. Denbow rose to the deserved position of Chief Medical Officer. There, she engaged in volunteer activities such as ensuring that the Public Hospital had an adequate Medical Library. Through her tireless efforts, the hospital gained significant funding from USAID to start the Medical Library and to award a scholarship for a fully trained Medical Librarian. Her other significant project was as the first Chairman of the Board for the Uncle Eddie’s home, started by her friend Eddie Holford of the U.S.A.

Through the long years of her adulthood, Dr. Denbow was renowned for her social activities and philanthropy which saw her helping countless girls and women to acquire the necessary skills to fulfill their potential. Her home on Church Street was opened to countless people who had fallen on hard times. Her encouragement and counsel were bulwarks in helping many people to turn their lives around. Over the years, many of these people have “paid it forward” by helping others.

Enid was a brilliant professional woman who gave to our country unselfishly of the gifts she was given, and one who was highly deserving of the Cacique Crown of Honor which was bestowed upon her recently. She remains a testament to persistent struggle in the face of hardship, boundless generosity in situations of need, and genuine love of children. In her wake, she has left an example from which we can draw strength for own lives. Hers was a long life fully lived and indeed an innings well played.

I end with a poem by Maya Angelou.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”

― Maya Angelou

Tribute by Frank Denbow III

There is no greater influence on my life and perspective than my Grandma Enid. As has been said already, she was accomplished in her work in medicine and her contributions to the field in Guyana. Her success was a source of inspiration for myself and many others to work hard and to achieve. She always wanted to know how I was doing in school, so I always tried to make my report a good one, - one that I wanted her to be proud of. That drive continues to this day.

My earliest memories in life are in our house here on Church street. I would cook with her as we attempted to recreate food from popular fast food chains. Those culinary skills were not well cultivated in my personal life but this time was punctuated with constant laughter and love shared. Her culinary skills were impeccable and when she entertained one could expect a feast and much laughter. Christmas was a particularly happy time in her home and I tried to share this time with her. Even though I lived in New Jersey for much of my life, being with Grandma in Guyana always felt like home.

Then there were the Saturday evenings when (in my juvenile mind) - I would take her to church. I did not understand much except that everyone else got cookies to eat at church and I got none. She would meet my complaints with laughter and an explanation that when I grew older I could have communion like everyone else. All through my life she has encouraged me to stay close to God and to always trust Him.

As I grew older I became aware that she motivated and helped many others around her.

I'll never forget moving into New York to my first apartment. I met the security guards at the front desk and I could hear the Guyanese accent. After figuring out we all had Guyanese roots, the main security guard told me the story about how my grandma saved his life decades ago, how grateful he was and how he would never forget it. Occurrences like these were the norm, as Grandma left behind a trail of people who had thankful stories to re-tell.

The Guyanese who I meet in my travels often say that she did the physical medical examination for them and hundreds of others as they prepared for their visas to work in the U.S. Along with each piece of medical advice she gave, she seemed to have also prescribed a dose of encouragement. Her influence was felt far and wide by many Guyanese.

As I grew into adulthood I was made more aware of my Grandma’s spirit and her effect on others. As she described her life, she noted that it was not an easy road. It was filled with sacrifices and difficult experiences for her, personally and professionally. Still, she had a warming spirit that lit up any room she was in. Quick to make a joke out of any situation, she knew how to have fun and laugh at things (including me). I video chatted with her one time a few years ago and she asked “who is there? You talking to your girlfriend?”. I said “no grandma, it’s just me here” to which she said “no, I’m talking about your computer”. Even in the days when she was in excruciating physical pain in the hospital she would remark that the nurse was “standing over me like she police”. And when my Mom had to give her a bed bath, she said "go ahead, what was private is now public".

I learned many lessons from my grandma.

I learned to cherish family, which is not defined solely by your blood line but by the love shared with others. Our eclectic and far reaching family is a representation of this philosophy.

I learned to contribute as much as I can to everyone around me and immediately forget about it, as we are not to keep score of what we have done for others.

I learned that focus and sacrifice are necessary in order to make progress. Her favorite phrase was “when play interferes with work, drop play”.

I learned to have compassion for those around us who need help and guidance. She took people into her home and helped them get on their feet, welcoming them into her own family. She stood up for people when there was no pressure on her to do so; she was one to do what is right at all times. This compassion cannot be understated. As I meet more people who have interacted with my grandmother, the common thread was that she showed how much she cared for others and supported them.

I learned the value of friendship as I have seen how her friends have supported her and lifted her spirit to the end.

I learned gratitude for even the slightest kindness. And on her behalf I am grateful for those who cared for her, supported her, visited her all these years. You did her proud by treating her with the love that she gave to all of us.

These lessons are the legacy my Grandma leaves behind. It is our responsibility to let her life be a beacon for us to continue living our lives in her image.

In her final years, she struggled through constant daily pain. Although I wish she was here to give me an encouraging word or make me laugh, I’m grateful to have such an iconic person show her love for me in the time we had together and grateful that she no longer has to live in pain.

Let us all work to live our lives in the image of Dr Enid Lucille Wilson Denbow.

Slideshow

Photos from Enid's Life: https://www.dropbox.com/s/mqph6wj0n1aqoq8/DR%20ENID%20LUCILLE%20DENBOW.pptx?dl=0

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