Yusuf Dawood: A surgeon, writer and selfless giver

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood

Dr Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood displays his book "Eye of the Storm" during a past interview with Sunday Nation

Photo credit: File | Dennis Okeyo | Nation Media Group

Most Kenyans know him as Yusuf Dawood, the Surgeon’s Diary columnist in the Sunday Nation, but within the Rotary Club, Dr Yusuf Kodwavwala was an elder.

He commanded respect and was revered by all Rotarians – and those he helped. In many local and international meetings, he was always called to “say something”. He had many jokes – witty, but exceptionally clean. He left everyone in stitches.

It was within Rotary, a global network of 1.4 million people, that he made a name by donating millions of shillings to worthy causes. His footprint in East Africa is bigger than most people know.

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood and his wife Marie Kodwavwala

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood and his wife Marie Kodwavwala addressing guests during a thanksgiving dinner held at Muthaiga Country Club, Nairobi, on February 23, 2017.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Both Dr Kodwavwala and his wife were the first members from Africa to join the prestigious Arch Klumph Society – a membership awarded to those who have contributed more than $250,000 (Sh25 million) to the Rotary Foundation. He had also been presented with the “Service Above Self” award, the highest honour Rotary International can bestow on an individual.

As he wrote about his work as a surgeon, he would also throw in his work as a Rotarian – a passion that allowed him to hobnob with ordinary people as he tried to solve societal problem by sharing what he earned.

For 56 years, Dr Kodwavwala, a member of Rotary Club of Nairobi, was a living example of the power of philanthropy and how to give back to society. He wore four hats, as he always said: surgeon, writer, Rotarian, and family man. He dropped none.

While work as a surgeon brought him to Kenya, his love for family saw him leave for UK in 2018 – to be near his children and grandchildren as he told a Rotary farewell party.

It was by chance that he ended up in East Africa from Pakistan.

In the 1940s, Dr Kodwavwala’s family fled Saurashtra State in India for Pakistan soon after the partition of India following its independence. He initially studied in India, where he graduated with his first medical degree from Mission Medical School, which was then affiliated to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Bombay and the University of Bombay.

After obtaining his undergraduate degree, in 1953, Dr Kodwavwala worked as a house surgeon at the JJ Hospital in Mumbai (then Bombay) before leaving for the UK in 1955 to pursue his postgraduate studies. He attained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in 1958 after he successfully did four surgical terms at Maidenhead, Blacknotley and Banbury hospitals, and Dewsbury General Infirmary.

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood displays his certificates and award winning titles "The last Word" and "Eye of the Storm" at his office on October 3, 2014.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It is at Banbury that he met his wife, Marie, who is well-known in Kenyan circles. Marie was a theatre nurse, and Dr Kodwavwala was the resident surgeon.

While his family was settled in Pakistan, a trip to Karachi from London would be his turning point. He met the dean of Karachi’s medical college, who told him that Aga Khan had opened a new hospital in Nairobi and they were looking for a young surgeon. The hospital was the Aga Khan Platinum Jubilee Hospital, the first multi-racial hospital in Nairobi. It was unlike the European Hospital, reserved for whites, and the King George VI Hospital for Africans.

Yusuf applied and was invited for an interview in London’s Eaton Square. He was interviewed by the Agha Khan and Sir Eboo Pirbhai, chairman of the new hospital and former Legislative Council member.

His only fear was what would be his fate and that of and his European wife after Kenya got independence. But he was assured by Sir Eboo and hospital administrator Robert Beaumont that Nairobi would be good for him – but if he wanted, he could apply for British citizenship, which he got in February 1961.

Although Dr Kodwavwala had signed a three-year contract in March 1961, he would stay in Kenya until 2018. Nairobi was good to him as he hobnobbed with the low and mighty.

At the Agha Khan hospital, he was Dr K since few people could pronounce his surname, while within Rotary he was simply PDG (Past District Governor) Yusuf. As a writer, he was Dawood.

His experience as a surgeon in a multi-racial society would turn him into a storyteller. Surgeon’s Diary was born after meeting with then Editor-in-Chief Joe Rodrigues. He started telling his experiences as a surgeon. Pleased and curious, Rodrigues pulled him aside: “Can you put what you have been saying on paper and drop it at my office,” asked Rodrigues. And with that, the column was born under the pen-name Yusuf Dawood.

Dawood’s stories were spellbinding. While some of his patients could identify themselves in the column, he told the stories by beautifully concealing their identities.

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood

Dr. Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood in his office.

Photo credit: File

His first book, No Strings Attached, was published in 1978 and would be followed by many others, including Behind the Mask, Off my Chest and The Last Word.

Besides writing, Yusuf, as he liked to be called, also taught medical students at the University of Nairobi, and he always spoke of how he enjoyed teaching.

He lived in the true Rotary spirit of service above self and always spotted the lapel pin.

[email protected], @Johnkamau1