Dr Runa Blyth Mackay (1921-2020)



‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.’ 1 Timothy 1:12 (New International Version of The Holy Bible)

This biblical quotation comes from the book, ‘Exile in Israel: A Personal Journey with the Palestinians’, written by Runa and published in 1995.

Runa was born in Hull, her father being Dr Duncan Mackay, an eye surgeon, and her mother, Anna, née Train. Dr Mackay had, during his medical training, worked at Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society’s Livingstone Memorial Dispensary. Runa followed her father to study medicine at Edinburgh and also attended the Dispensary. This would involve helping in the outpatients’ clinic and visiting patients in their homes. After qualifying MBChB in 1944, Runa undertook further study, gaining her DCH, MD in 1952, and MRCPE in 1954.

Prior to leaving for Nazareth, Runa was working as a medical registrar in the Children’s Hospital in Manchester, when she received a letter from Dr Tester in the EMMS Hospital Nazareth asking if she knew of anyone who could act as locum for him for six months. Runa offered to go, and in March 1955 she flew out to Israel to begin her life’s work. She remained there for twenty years as an obstetrician, gynaecologist and paediatrician. This was to be a deeply fulfilling position for Runa and a full resumé of her work is given in her aforementioned book.

In 1976, after twenty years of working in Nazareth, Runa took a year’s sabbatical leave to work in India before taking up a position as a District Medical Officer with the Israeli Ministry of Health. This was to be for ten years. Throughout this time, many articles written by Runa appeared in publications of the EMMS, firstly the ‘Quarterly Papers’ then ‘The Healing Hand’.

During her time in Nazareth, Runa was an active board member and this continued when she returned to Edinburgh full time.

From 1985 to 1990, Runa studied at Edinburgh University for a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies, graduating with a second-class honours degree with a dissertation on Al-Razi, a tenth-century Persian physician.

It was during this time that Runa began working for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). There were long university vacations and she worked with others to further the work of MAP. In 2014 a lifetime achievement award was given, recognising almost sixty years of service to the Palestinian people.

The Iona Community was another of Runa’s lifetime works.

Runa died peacefully on 31st May 2020 at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in her 99th year. A great inspiration and a beloved friend.

Patricia Baxter

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