At the entrance to Murambinda Mission Hospital is a huge white banner emblazoned with a summarised obituary of medical doctor Monica Glenshaw.
It is a brief, succinct overview of the woman in her lifetime: compassionate, sensitive and loving.
Her death was not only Murambinda’s loss, for the whole community of Buhera feels robbed. To them, this is fate’s greatest betrayal.
On September 23, they laid to rest a white woman described by Headman Murambinda as “our muroora” (daughter-in-law).
That is just how seamlessly Glenshaw had blended with the locals here. She had become one of their own.
Although the hospital’s administrator was tight-lipped about the heroine — in fear of breaching protocol — people in the community quickly opened up about the woman they had loved so dearly for almost three decades.
“She was my best friend,” volunteered a shopkeeper at the local business centre, Janet Mudowo. “This is the end of Murambinda (Mission) Hospital.”
Perhaps her greatest attribute, it emerged, was her gift of blending with people, from those in high offices to those at the bottom rung of the social ladder. She had a rare ability to reach out to the needy and the afflicted, always ready to offer assistance.
“She would come in here and sit, and we would talk for hours,” said Mudowo, adding that whenever the doctor saw someone with a mental problem walking about the area, she would try to seek out their problem and help.
It was during such talks that confidences were shared and the friendship got stronger and deeper.
The skilled doctor’s love went beyond the call of duty, according to a local hotelier, Farisi Makumbe, who served on the hospital board together with Glenshaw.
Makumbe said testimonies given during the burial illustrated a life well lived.
The medical practitioner, he said, had been a key player in setting up HIV and Aids programmes, establishing New Start Centres and bringing in the voluntary Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors without Borders) to the district.
“During times of emergency, like cholera outbreaks, she worked with the Ministry (of Health and Child Welfare) as well as a number of non-governmental organisations to ensure that the hospital was prepared to deal with any exigencies,” Makumbe recalled.
He added that Glenshaw was instrumental in making recommendations to have several clinics built in the district.
Headman Murambinda — who had attended a Copac meeting in the area — arrived at the mission hospital just in time for the doctor’s burial.
Glenshaw had so fallen in love with the people of Buhera that even in death she refused to be separated from them. In line with her wishes, they decided to bury her right in the hospital yard.
“She died in Harare,” the headman said, “but she had said bury me in Murambinda, among the people I lived and worked.”
The headman’s worry, though, was whether or not all the proper traditional burial rites had been honoured.
“This could not be skipped. We should have advised Chief Nyashanu first, then looked at muromo wechuru (burial site at an anthill). The elders would have looked for the churu. But since she was buried on the hospital premises, I don’t think it’s a big issue,” he said. “But I will have to sit down with the chief and discuss the matter with him.”
Glenshaw, who originally came from Holland, later adopted Zimbabwean citizenship, although some of her relatives live in South Africa.
The chief aide to Headman Murambinda, Simon Gondo, said they will remember Glenshaw for her love, and how she reached out to society’s disadvantaged in their hours of need.
“People here face financial hardships, but she would treat the sick for free and they would pay later. She never turned anyone away just because they didn’t have money,” he said.
Makumbe said he first met the doctor while he was still working for Wadzanayi Hotel, before setting up his own Paradise Motel, where Glenshaw often organised functions for the hospital.
“When MSF first came here, she worked hard to ensure that they got the requisite documentation to operate in this district,” he said.
He added that she also worked round the clock in raising funds to finance the hospital’s operations. The cancer that hounded, and would later claim her life, did not break her stride.
“We accepted her desire to be buried here. We saw it as a good thing. She didn’t consider race, and she had become one of us,” he said.
Glenshaw’s funeral drew between an estimated 1 500 and 2 000 people, including government officials, friends from South Africa and people from the community.
Makumbe said before she passed on, the doctor had suggested another medical practitioner from Harare (name supplied) whose feet might be big enough to fit Glenshaw’s shoes.
With Glenshaw at the helm, Murambinda Mission Hospital drew people seeking treatment from as far as Harare, Gutu and Masvingo, and was probably the next big hospital after Karanda.
Glenshaw’s funeral, according to Mudowo, revealed the latter’s and other people’s, inadequacies.
“She was so humble that she requested a simple, ordinary coffin. Any other person of her stature would have been buried in a casket,” said Mudowo, who shared a love for books with Glenshaw.
“She loved African history and was a keen researcher,” Mudowo added. Her prayer, she said, was that the hospital would find a worthy replacement.
Jesina Machaka — Glenshaw’s maid for 23 years — recalled her late employer’s magnanimity.
“Her love extended to my family and she saw to it that we were well-catered for,” she said. “She also brought her friends from Australia to buy the clay pots that I made. I never had a problem with her. We separated in love. I’m now at a loss, like someone in darkness.”
Her regret was that Glenshaw died just after asking her to give her the names of her school-going children so that she could make arrangements for their fees’ payment.
There was no convoy of top-of-the-range vehicles synonymous with the funerals of the rich and the famous. It was just one car bearing the simple coffin.
As she had been in life, so she was in death.