September 2012 Volume 9

Remembering Gwendoyln Spencer, OD Midwife extraordinaire

Reprinted from Jamaica Observer
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This story about the mother of KCOB Noel Spencer appeared in the observer May, 2004

By Ann-Margaret Lim Observer staff reporter

The title of pioneer-heroine easily fits Gwendoyln Spencer, OD, the woman who co-founded the Jamaica Midwives' Association (JMA) in 1960, tutored the majority of Jamaican midwives and spent most her life championing the cause of midwives locally and internationally.

So large and far reaching is her influence that The International Day of the Midwife suggested by her at one of the International Confederation of Midwives' meeting was quickly accepted and implemented - this according to Carmen Walker, president, JMA.

An invaluable asset to the local health sector, Spencer was called from her 1976 retirement as tutor at Victoria Jubilee Hospital since her expertise was required by the National Family Planning Board. And though she is now officially retired, Spencer still attends JMA meetings - a fact which proved troubling since members had to snob her temporarily, as they secretly planned the event honouring her dedication.

"We are planning to record her story, because Spencer, an example for anyone who desires to achieve excellence in her profession, has the history of the JMA and Jamaican midwifery," said health minister, John Junor, yesterday at a luncheon at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel honouring Spencer's over 40 years dedicatory service. According to the minister, Spencer set examples for every professional in the health care sector as she 'laid the foundation for the ministry of health's maternal and childbirth services." He also lauded the veteran midwife for her persistence, evidenced by her insistence that midwifery courses be re-implemented following their brief cessation.

Still slim and stately after over 40 years of midwifery, three robust children and much travelling locally and internationally on matters of her profession and passion, Spencer insists; " I'm always going to be a part of the JMA, a very dear organisation to me".

But who is this patron of midwives, whose three children, Wayne, Noel and Althea grew to consider the sterilized hallways of Victoria Jubilee Hospital as their second home, and whose husband, Omphroy is known by all her trainees?

The short and obvious answer evidenced by the glowing tributes is that she's a midwife, mother, wife, tutor and pioneer rolled in one. The longer answer however, meanders parishes and decades as it first goes back to the 1920s in Christiana Manchester-her birthplace. Then it switches to Westwood High School in Trelawny, Kingston Public Hospital and Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston where she graduated in 1945 and worked as a midwife for 14 years, before receiving a government scholarship and hopping on a plane to go do her masters in 1957.

Then she flew back soon after to teach at Victoria Jubilee, before being appointed matron in 1969. In between her return and her 1969 appointment, she was the 1960 co-founder of the JMA, of which she was the first secretary treasurer. And in 1966, through much of her and the other founding members' diplomatic overtures, the JMA was welcomed into the International Confederation of Midwives, a move which saw her visiting Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada etc, as she extolled the virtues and championed the causes of midwives worldwide.

During her almost decade long stay as president, Spencer was awarded the Order of Distinction. But her son Wayne Spencer sees this badge of honour as but a reminder of “the unceasing miracles she has created." Also heaping praises on her mom was reverend Althea Spencer-Miller. “Living with my mom meant living with the energy and sense of vision, it meant building and being a part of something bigger than us," said Spencer-Miller.

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