History of Friends of Vellore

The Beginning – (1943 – 1992)

Presented by Late Dr. Reg Walker

Australian support for and interest in the Christian Medical College and Hospital at Vellore in South India commenced in 1943 in Sydney. The initiative came from Dr. Edward Gault a Melbourne Methodist medical graduate who with his wife Edna (also a medical graduate but from Sydney) had been working for seven years at the hospital at Azamgarh, North India, as Methodist missionaries. They were preparing to move south to the Medical College and Hospital at Vellore 120kms due west from Madras (Chennai). Dr. Gault had been appointed as the foundation Professor of Pathology at the Medical College, and was waiting to take up his appointment in 1944.

The establishment of the new Medical College and Hospital was a huge and costly undertaking and it was clear that assistance from overseas (finance, staff, equipment, prayerful concern and general promotion) would be vital. The idea of support groups to be known as Friends of Vellore was developed in U.K, U.S.A. and Australia as a means of achieving this support.

The first Friends of Vellore group in Australia was formed in Sydney in 1943 with strong support from Rev. B.R.Wyllie, Mrs. Dorothy Larcombe (later Lady Joske), Rev. A.P.Campbell, Rev. Leonard Hardst and Mr. Eric Gifford among others. The initial meeting was held in the city, but soon the meetings were at Somerset, the home of Dorothy Larcombe (Joske), and continued to be held there at her invitation for almost 40 years. Somerset in Strathfield was the ‘spiritual home’ for Australian Friends of Vellore.A Victorian Friends of Vellore (again on the initiative of Dr. Gault) was formed later in 1943 in Melbourne.

Dr. Edward Gault

Dr. Edward Gault

The two groups continued to meet mostly annually. In 1956 when Dr. Gault was on leave in Australia, he searched for and found a biochemist to fill an important position at the C.M.C. in the person of Dr. Ian Hansen from Adelaide. Dr. Hansen, a member of the Malvern Methodist Church in Adelaide accepted the appointment and with his wife Nola took up the appointment. The members of the Hansens’ Church at Malvern pledged strong support for them and this led to the formation in 1956 of an Adelaide Friends of Vellore.

Discussion took place before long as to whether there should be a coordinating body to bring together the support from the three groups in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, to streamline fundraising activities, the handling of finance, communications with Vellore and the appropriate care of visitors from Vellore, who included postgraduates involved in research or study. So the Australian Vellore Board came into existence later in 1956. The establishment of Friends of Vellore Groups followed in other cities; Brisbane in 1958, Perth in 1960 and Hobart in 1970.

The first meeting of the Australian Board of Vellore Christian Medical College was held on 10th July 1956 at 139 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. The meeting was chaired by Rev B.R.Wyllie. According to the minutes of the meeting, the chairman explained that the ?the formation of the Board was at the request of Dr. John Carman, the Director of CMC & H, to co-ordinate the work done in Australia by the various FOV groups?. I was one of the founder members of the Board. In 1958 I became the Secretary of the Board and in 1968 took over the Chairmanship and held it until 1989. Alison Vickery came onto the Board in 1965 and Philip Slade in 1971. In 1976, Alison and Philip were elected as the secretary and treasurer respectively. They both served the board tirelessly and meritoriously in their respective capacities for more than 20 years. In 1989 Rev. Elizabeth Walker took over the chairmanship from me and held it till 1992. Rev. Brian Lee, from Brisbane was elected as the chairman of the Board in 1992. He was the first non Sydney-sider to become an office bearer.

     Rev. Elizabeth             Walker

The reason for Sydney having been chosen as the base for the Vellore Board was that the three Mission Boards which contributed so much in money and in personnel all had their head offices in Sydney. These were the Methodist Board of Overseas Mission, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission and the London Missionary Society (Congregational.) In the early stages and for many years we, the Vellore Board, were closely connected with and dependent in many ways on these three Boards. The newly established Vellore Board needed strength and so the first constitution specified significant numbers from Sydney for the ongoing work to be handled properly.

Looking back over the fifty years, the level of support to Vellore by the Australian Friends of Vellore is impressive It is often stated that in the late forties and fifties financial help from us played an important part, along with the help from USA and UK, in keeping CMC viable. Over that period of time, there have been special projects in which we were involved. Firstly, special support to endow the Chair of Pathology, obviously relating closely to the work of Edward Gault. Then there was the support in helping to establish and then maintain the Ida Scudder Low Cost Effective Care Ward, aimed at providing high quality medical care to the poorest of the poor. Since 2001 most of the money sent through the Australian Vellore Board has gone into the Centenary Endowment fund which subsidised surgical and other expensive treatments for patients from the Vellore area and also to establish scholarships. Some money also went towards the Ida Scudder Centenary building.

The role of the Board went beyond financial support. Many Australians over the years have worked at Vellore in various medical fields providing academic and clinical support. Edward and Edna Gault, Alison Vickery, Selwyn Baker, Ian Hansen, Marlienne Thomson, Frank Garlick, Val Rudeforth, Claire Heaton, Geoff Shead, John and Sally Rothwell, Virginia Blakie, Ellis Carlier, John Vance and myself, Reg Walker ? to name the ones I could recollect.

Some of these positions were fully funded from the Australian Vellore Board, some partly by the respective Mission Boards and some by Australian Volunteers Abroad. Others worked in a totally honorary capacity giving their services free and living on their savings. All of us who served at Vellore have loving memories of the concern, support and friendship which was extended to us, even when we visited Vellore long after we left. We also had the opportunity to share our experience at Vellore with the friends back home at various functions thus spreading the gospel of CMC in Australia.

But in recent years, Australia has been playing an invaluable role in providing post graduate training opportunities for Vellore staff. Adelaide has been the city where most of them spent their time of training.

The Transition – (1992 – 1999)

Presented by Rev. Brian Lee

When I was elected Chairman of the Board in 1992, it was the first time this position was held by someone living outside of Sydney. Although it was not seen as such at the time, it proved to be the beginning of a process of decentralisation of the Board. While there was some convenience in having all the Board’s officers in one city, the growing strength of other State Friends of Vellore groups and the development of better means of communication – faxes, telephone conferencing, then emails – made it easier for the Board to take advantage of the dedication and skills of Vellore supporters in places other than Sydney.

Rev. Brian Lee

Rev. Brian Lee

During 1997 and 1998 a great deal of work was done to gather together suggestions and recommendations from the State groups so as to bring about a new Constitution, approved in August 1998, which acknowledged this decentralisation. It was an interesting experience for me to be working with people who had strong and sometimes widely differing opinions about the shape of the new Constitution, but we did manage to produce a basis for significant changes which in no way limited but rather enhanced the work of the Board. For good reasons, this Constitution was further amended later, but the 1998 Constitution enabled this transition to take place. An official role for Alumni representatives on the Board was one of the significant changes. In most of the State groups Alumni were already valuable members and office holders.

Through the good work of Mr. Esdras Giddy and the Board?s Publicity Officer, a 20 minute video entitled ‘A Transforming Presence’ was produced by the Board and widely distributed. Though some parts are dated because of changes at CMC, this video will continue to be used until new material, making use of today’s technology, is produced by the Board. There were two earlier films made for promotional use, titled – ‘To children with Love’ and ‘Out stretched Hands’.

Over many years the Australian Board had supported a number of long term Australian staff members at CMC. The retirement of Miss Marlienne Thomson brought this era to an end. Already by the early 1990s it was clear that personal stories from Vellore would now come to us from local staff and through Australians working as short term volunteers or as visitors to CMC.

In my report to the 1999 Board I said, “The number of people who can describe themselves as ‘Vellore returned’ continues to grow, and these people provide us with a great resource – these are people who have experienced Vellore first hand, who have shared in its successes and have known at first hand its frustrating needs. Many of them are looking for opportunities to continue links with Vellore and many are prepared to support Vellore in one way or another.”

A disappointment to us all during those seven years was the folding up of the Western Australian Friends of Vellore group. The sudden and unexpected death of the Secretary/Treasurer of that group hastened that end.

The New Era – (1999 – 2007)

Presented by Prof. Ian Olver

The policy to have the Board decentralised continued with the election of Professor Ian Roberts- Thomson from South Australia as president in 1999. A driving force behind the Friends of Vellore in South Australia, Dr Rasiah Vigneswaran was the national publicity officer at that time. A new Constitution became operable from that year and further change was recorded in the minutes of the 1999 AGM noting the end of 24 years service of Philip Slade as treasurer, with Richard Caitens assuming that role, and 27 years of Alison Vickery as secretary with Stephen Aseervatham taking over that responsibility.

Understanding the different approach of the South Australian Friends of Vellore group to that of traditional fundraising, illustrates what a change in philosophy underpinned the new national leadership. Fundraising in South Australia focused on an annual dinner, but more importantly they had concentrated on developing relationships with the staff of CMC by providing training opportunities in a variety of specialties including gastroenterology orthopaedics, cardiothoracic surgery, paediatrics and obstetrics and there were in excess of 20 faculty and partners in Adelaide at any one time to engage with the FOV group. Presentations by the Vellore faculty contrasting their training in Australia with their plans for when they returned to Vellore became an annual event. This engaged the medical community in the FOV which re-energized the group to the extent that the annual dinner of nearly 500 regularly had to turn supporters away. It is perhaps significant to note that the new Medical Director in Vellore, George Chandy, had previously trained in Ian Roberts-Thomson?s unit in Adelaide.

The 2000 AGM highlighted the changing times. Ian began to tackle the issues of incorporation of the Australian Board and the emerging problem of groups requiring public liability insurance to cover their fundraising functions. Some of the traditional funding sources were no longer accessible for supporting the work in Vellore. A discussion paper by Dr Vigneswaran highlighted the changing needs of Vellore, which would see activities such as sending equipment and outdated textbooks replaced by professional engagement and support not only to train doctors from Vellore but also to encourage our medical students to do elective terms at Vellore, which would also ensure new blood was available to the FOV movement in Australia. It was at this time that Dr Vigneswaran established the first Australian FOV website, before he nominated me to succeed him as publicity officer.

CMC Vellore, by comparison, had had a very well maintained website for some time, and as an indication of the changing face of that hospital their Centenary was celebrated with the opening of a new building featuring, amongst other specialties, a very high technology neonatal unit.

In 2002 Ian Roberts-Thomson and I, from the Australian FOV, attended the 2002 International Consultation in Vellore to develop the next 10 year strategic plan. Not only did that event reflect their firm foundation in the healing ministry of Christ, but also highlighted their continuing desire to develop their tertiary specialties while recognizing their outreach responsibilities, not only to surrounding mission hospitals but also to stewardship of their environment.

Prof. Ian Olver

Prof. Ian Olver

This Consultation was an important opportunity for the Australian Board to engage with CMC. In November 2002, Dr. Vigneswaran died suddenly. A strong supporter of FOV since the 1980?s he not only contributed to the great expansion of support for FOV in South Australia but had had a major role in the restructuring of the Australian Board and its constitution on more democratic lines. He was also responsible for strengthening the Board by involving the alumni. He lived to see the completion of a project earlier that year which he and his classmates, the batch of 1962, had initiated. That involved my training Dr Raju Chacko in Adelaide for 3 years so that he could return to Vellore and establish a medical oncology unit which was dedicated to the memory of Maureen Vigneswaran, also a graduate of CMC Vellore, who had died of cancer.

Ian Roberts-Thomson steered the Australian Board through the difficult issues of constitutional change, incorporation and indemnity through 2003 and 2004. The Board meetings rotated between the capital cities which allowed greater involvement of the members of the state groups. Ian had been a frequent visitor to Vellore which kept us very much in touch with developments there and George Chandy came to Australia in 2004 and 2006. George subsequently asked the Australian Board to take the lead in producing a new promotional DVD.

Rev. John Connan was elected president at the 2005 Board meeting in Melbourne. I reformatted the existing web site and Stephen Aseervatham, as the new publicity officer, took it to the next level of functionality. The DVD project which will be completed in 2007 is symbolic of changing times and needs, which is the major challenge to the Australian Board.

Past Members of the Executive Committee? Australian Board of CMC


Rev. B.R. Wyllie
Dr. Reg Walker
Mrs. Elizabeth Walker
Rev. Brian Lee
Prof. Ian Roberts-Thomson
Rev. John Connan
Prof. Ian Olver
Dr. Bella George

Vice Chairmen

Dr. Reg walker
Dr. E.W.Gault
Rev. B.R. Wyllie
Dr. Felix. Arden
Rev. Ellis Carlier
Mt. Stewart Joy
Dr. Ian Roberts-Thomson
Rev. John Connan
Prof. Ian Olver
Dr. Bella George
Dr. Stephen Aseervatham
Prof. David Runia


Mrs. Dorothy Larcombe (Joske)
Dr. Reg Walker
Prof. Alfred Steinbeck
Dr. H. Malcolm Whyte
Rev. B.R.Wyllie
Ms. Alison Vickery
Dr. Stephen Aseervatham
Dr. Jeanette Hyland
John Rothwell
Ms. Liz Guiver
Ms. Evelyn Lehmann


Mr. Eric Gifford
Mr. Ian Pearson
Mr. Philip Slade

Publicity Officers

Rev. W.S. Chaseling
Mr. K. Allen
Mrs. Olwyn Swain
Mr. Stewart Cuddy
Mr. Edmund Walker
Dr. R. Vigneswaran
Prof. Ian Olver
Dr. Stephen Aseervatham
Dr. Chellam Kirubakaran

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