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Norman B. Abell ’51M (MD)*

Norman AbellDr. Norman Burt Abell was a physician who devoted his life to serving thousands of patients in the remote areas of the Congo. A career missionary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, he was committed to healing body and spirit, and played an instrumental role in advancing public health and nursing education in medically underserved areas of the Congo (Zaire).

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1926, Dr. Abell earned his bachelor’s degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where he met his wife, Jean. They married in 1947 and moved to New York State, where he received his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1951. Called to a vocation of mission work, Dr. and Mrs. Abell were appointed to serve with the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society in the Belgian Congo, where they sailed with their two young children in 1956. Upon arrival, Dr. Abell served a one-month internship at the Kimpese hospital before taking charge of a 100-bed hospital at Sona Bata, a mission station that included a church and four schools as well as the hospital and nursing school. During his tenure at Sona Bata, Dr. Abell also routinely visited rural dispensaries and treated patients at Boko’s mission hospital, where he was the only surgeon in a region of 50,000 residents.

In early 1959, Dr. Abell and his family moved to isolated Moanza, where he worked in a 40-bed hospital that had not previously had a doctor. Dr. Abell’s career as a surgeon virtually ended in 1961 when he contracted polio. Following a difficult, lengthy recovery that left him unable to use his left arm, Dr. Abell shifted his focus to health administration and nursing education. After receiving his Master in Public Health degree at Johns Hopkins University, he became director of the national bureau of Protestant medical work for the Church of Christ in Zaire. In that post, he played a key role in establishing a pharmaceutical supply service for church hospitals. Dr. Abell subsequently worked for the Evangelical Medical Institute at Kimpese, where he helped create rural health zones and refugee services.

From 1985 to 1990, the Abells served in Kikongo and Moanza, where Dr. Abell returned to general medical practice and worked with nurses and health care workers from 25 rural health centers, helping them upgrade their diagnostic skills. He also collaborated with a national doctor to create a nursing school at Kikongo. The Abells retired in 1991 and moved to a retirement community in Penney Farms, Florida. Dr. Abell died in 2012 and was survived by Jean, his wife of 65 years; their four children; 13 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren.