Farewell to Mayiladuthurai’s ‘Florence Nightingale’

Phyllis Rodrigues worked at the Dharmapuram Adheenam Free Maternity Home for over 35 years

Mayiladuthurai town bid a tearful farewell to its own “Florence Nightingale”, who recently died after decades of maternity service to the local population. Phyllis Rodrigues, 98, was a gynaecologist at the Dharmapuram Adheenam Free Maternity Home for over 35 years.

Dr. Rodrigues was born in Australia in 1923 to an Australian couple, and after spending her early years there, she moved to Chennai to study medicine at the Madras Medical College in 1946. Some of her relatives had moved to the then Madras and recommended the college for studying medicine.

Following her graduation as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr. Rodrigues had the opportunity to serve at the Dharmapuram Adheenam Free Maternity Home, set up in 1951. The then head of Dharmapuram Adheenam is said to have approached Dr. Rodrigues and asked her to serve as a doctor at the hospital. From 1955 to around 1990, she worked as the chief doctor at the hospital and lived on the Town Station Road.

Speaking to The Hindu about Dr. Rodrigues, Pannai C. Sivasubramanian, who lived next door to her in Mayiladuthurai, said the former worked tirelessly for 35 years at the maternity home. “She insisted on normal deliveries and it was very rare that any C-section deliveries were conducted under her care. Even late in the night, she would travel on a bullock cart to reach the house of the pregnant woman to assist with the delivery,” he said.

Around 1990, Dr. Rodrigues stopped working due to failing health and lived in Egmore, Chennai, for a few years after retirement. Her husband was an employee in Southern Railway and following his demise, she returned to Australia in 1998. “Her family kept in touch with us and even visited us two years ago. Her sister’s children came to see the house Dr. Rodrigues lived in and I even got to talk to her on a video call after over 20 years,” Mr. Sivasubramanian said, happiness writ large on his face.

Reminiscing about Dr. Rodrigues, Mr. Sivasubramanian said he had never heard her raise her voice. “She was a very polite and lovable soul and everyone in Mayiladuthurai adored her loving nature. She loved animals and reared pups, turkey and other animals in her house,” he said.

Dr. Rodrigues, who did not have children of her own, would invite Mr. Sivasubramanian, his siblings and friends to her house every Christmas, and prepare a feast. He was saddened when he was informed of her ill-health a few weeks ago. Dr. Rodrigues celebrated her 98th birthday this May.

Following her demise on July 2, the Mayiladuthurai Aram Sei Trust organised a prayer and memorial service at the maternity home. Many people whose childrens’ birth was assisted by Dr. Rodrigues took part and shared memories.

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