The Rev. Dr. Martin Weitz, a missionary, recently remarked in his farewell speech before leaving Vizag: "the best contribution Visakhapatnam made to the Vellore medical college and hospital was Dr Hilda Lazarus. Visakhapatnam can very justifiably be proud of having produced such an illustrious person as Dr Hilda Lazarus".
Who was Dr Hilda Lazarus? It is for the benefit of the younger generation who do not know anything about her, that this article is written. I just heard about her in 1940 when I was in Kurnool and she was in the Government General Hospital in Madras. It was only in 1963, when my husband was posted to INS Circars Visakhapatnam, that I came to know this great lady personally. She was not the one to speak about her fame as a doctor; I got that information from others. The rest of what follows is what I gathered from informal chats with her and from her public utterances.
When I visited her once after she retired in 1970 she was relaxed and in a talkative mood. She told me her grandparents were Velama Doralu. Her grandmother was a lady with a vision and in those days, when education was considered to be unnecessary for girls, she sent her daughter to Vijayanagaram to be educated by a missionary lady there. When their uncles, who were very orthodox Hindus came to know about it, they went to Vijayanagaram and brought the girls back. The old lady, however, was adamant, and took them back to the missionary and upbraided her for having allowed the menfolk to take the girls away when she had left them in her custody. Eventually her father or grandfather came under the influence of missionaries and converted to Christianity. As a result of this, they were subjected to persecution and social ostracism. But that's another story.
Later, when her father was appointed principal, of CBM high school, she joined that school for her primary education. She later went to England to qualify for a medical degree and spent many years there for several courses in medicine. Those were days when not many Indians went abroad. She was called "The little black doctor" as she was short and slim. After her return to India, she wrote a book based on her experiences in England and served as the Dean of Vellore Medical College and Chief Medical Officer at the Vellore hospital. For a few years her services were given to the Government General Hospital, Madras. In Visakhapatnam, she held the posts of Principal of Andhra Medical College and Superintendent of King George's Hospital. There is a Lazarus ward in the Victoria Hospital for Women and Child (better know as the Gosha hospital) here where she also served.
Her efficiency as surgeon was well known and needs no elaboration here. But what was she like as a person? Though diminutive in size she commanded respect by her calm and dignified bearing. Clad in a neat white sari always, she spoke slowly and distinctly looking straight at the eyes of the one she was speaking to. She walked unhurriedly looking this way and that. She had a subtle sense of humour. She was a strict disciplinarian and expected her subordinates to be punctual at the place of work. She was an embodiment of honesty, integrity and near perfection in her profession.
She had great concern for the poor and underprivileged and many benefited by her generosity. She always deplored the lack of toilet facilities for the hutment dwellers and expressed the need for more public conveniences. She did whatever she could to help those who deserved help. Many young people of her day owed their positions to her recommendation to the concerned officers. She could not tolerate injustice meted out to anyone. In her were combined gentleness and firmness.
After her retirement in 1970, she turned her energies in other directions. She was the president of the Managing Board of CBM High School. Once she took a decision on any matter, she stuck to it and would not allow herself to be swayed by others. She considered CBM High School as her own and left through her will, a large portion of her property for the development of the school. I had the honour of being asked by her to serve on the Managing Board. She was also very much associated with the Visakhapatnam branch of the Bible Society of India. Here also I was asked by her to serve on the committee. It was through this association that I had the privilege of getting to know her personally. Whichever organisation she was associated with, she gave it her best. Every bible society annual fete, she would have a stall of plants and she would sit there patiently trying to get women to buy her potted plants - ferns, crotons and flowering plants. I can still see her in my mind's eye, in her enthusiastic recommendation to buy her Japanese pompom her cheeks would puff out. She put her heart and soul into whatever she did.
She was a member of the London Mission Memorial Church on the Main Road and attended it regularly. She arranged and paid for the construction of the Gladys Memorial Hall in the same compound in memory of her elder sister who was a social worker.
When she realised that her end was nearing she started selling her property, which she said originally extended from where Apsara Hotel (now Green Park Hotel) was situated till the end of Daspalla Executive Court. She sold most of it. She gently persuaded me to buy her sofa set and centre table, saying it was made of Burma teak wood. She had a good many garden implements for sale. Whatever she got through the sale was for the CBM High School, the Vellore hospital and her brother's daughters who had migrated to the UK or the USA.
The Waltair Main Road in front of Waltair club, St. Paul's Church and Circuit House was named after her a few years ago. But after a while, another name was added. The Municipal Corporation would do well to rename that road as Lazarus Marg - that would be the least the public of Visakhapatnam could do to honour such an eminent citizen.
However, there are a few Vizagites who do remember and who do care: the negative for the photo above has been carefully preserved for more than 40 years by Mr. D. Ambu Rao, the conference room of the Executive Court Hotel (built on the former Lazarus Bungalow) has been named 'Lazarus Room' and more recently (4th October 03) the Lazarus Hospital (also built on her property) was inaugurated by Mr. Venkiah Naidu. During the ceremony those who knew her - mostly senior citizens of Visakhapatnam, paid rich tributes to her.