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Mission to Cameroon

·5 min read

Second in a two-part feature

After six years working in India, Emma and Radhakrishna (Rad) Padhi returned to Saskatchewan in 1967 to ensure their children got a solid education. In india, they would have had to pack them off to boarding school for that.

The family resumed their life in Western Canada, moving from Saskatchewan to Manitoba and eventually to Alberta. Dr. Padhi performed cardiac surgery, while Emma continued nursing. She also started selling real estate, taking a top national sales award in 1978.

Emma occasionally flew to remote Indigenous communities in northern Saskatchewan, filling in for local nurses during their time off.

“She quickly made friends with the local chiefs and always arrived home with stories of her adventures from treating patients late at night while working alone in a nursing station, to being invited by the local chief to a day of ice fishing and snowmobiling,” her daughter, Pam Railton, wrote in an email.

Emma, a native of Belleoram, Newfoundland and Labrador, had plenty of close friends and family in Canada to keep her happy.

But she wasn’t about to stay put for long.

When Emma and Rad both retired in 1987, the pair packed up again and flew to Cameroon in West Africa on a three-year medical mission. Emma taught nursing staff, assisted in the operating room and helped rebuild the hospital.

“She never shied away from a difficult task or asked anyone to do something she would not do herself," Pam says.

When she discovered the outhouses meant for local families were locked, Emma broke the locks and opened the doors to discover they were infested with maggots.

Undaunted, she bought chemical agents, doused the facilities and locked the doors again. A few days later, she returned with hot water to wash up, along with some paint.

“She tried to delegate the job, but every time she left everyone stopped working, so she ended up working with them to get the job done — and made some new friends,” says Pam.

After her husband died in 1998, Emma continued to volunteer for medical missions in Haiti, Mexico and Guatemala.

“Her religious beliefs were a guiding force in her life,” says Pam. “She loved the hymns and took great comfort in reading and reciting verses from the scriptures.”

Pam’s daughter, Sarah Railton, also recalls her Nana’s work ethic and her determination to help others.

When Sarah was going to university in Edmonton, she and her Nana went to dinner at the home of a young couple from India who had just moved there and had no furniture and nothing on the walls.

“Nana took one look around, and then we went out and bought a bunch of cleaning supplies and we came back, and so what was supposed to be just a dinner party turned into Nana scrubbing out their bathroom and doing all this cleaning,” Sarah said in a phone interview, laughing at the scenario. “And then we ate this beautiful meal that the wife had worked all day to create.”

Sarah’s earliest memories of her Nana were of someone she knew loved her very deeply.

“I was a really squirmy sleeper, and when she would come to visit … she would have to sleep in my bed with me and she wanted to cuddle me,” she says, “and I kept telling her I couldn’t breathe when she was cuddling me so tight, and she’d say, ‘I can hear you breathing.’

“I’ve always kept that memory with me, that feeling of being snuggled and warm with your grandmom who loves you so much. It’s just a beautiful memory.”

Emma’s son, Des, is the middle of three children; the youngest son, Devkumar (Dev), was born in India.

“Mom had a big heart and cared about the health and well-being of everyone — family, friends and strangers,” Des wrote from California. “She had a terrific sense of humour and was always quick with a joke or a laugh, and had a way of making even the most difficult situations seem not so bad.”

Anne Szabo of Calgary met Emma in 2010, and became a close travelling companion.

“Emma’s positivity and good sense of humour drew me to her,” Szabo wrote. “I thought she would make a good travel companion and not a prima donna. And I was right.”

The pair toured Turkey, took a riverboat cruise from Moscow to St Petersburg, and ventured to Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul and the Galapagos.

“Each evening during our travels we would lie in bed laughingly reviewing our exploits of the day. Any bad experiences were blunted by finding something funny about the situation.”

Wilma Clark befriended Emma in 2014, shortly before she had a stroke. The two met at Red Deer Lake United Church, and Wilma continued to visit with Emma at her personal care home until her death on Jan. 3.

“Emma has an amazing family who loved her extravagantly and miss her intensely. They treated her like gold,” Clark wrote, adding she had one special grandson, Nathan, who would visit and massage her limbs and help cheer on her beloved Calgary Flames.

Emma was always dressed beautifully, she said, and was loved by everyone who met her.

“I was privileged to offer her a last prayer over the phone minutes before she died.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram