Muscat: To the people of Oman, Thoms was more than a doctor, he was a hero.
The American hospital in sun-drenched Muttrah was where Dr Wells Thoms served as a physician for 31 years, treating contagious, fatal diseases, until his retirement in 1970.
Since then, stories of the noble, selfless man have been passed down through generations of Omanis. Starting with a team of only five Omanis, Thoms treated patients in roofless wards under the baking heat, not only in Muttrah, where he lived, but also as far as Barka and Sohar, before roads were built.
By the late 1960s, his over-crowded hospital had more than 150 Omani employees, and all trained on-the-job. For more than a decade, Thoms was Oman’s only doctor, and most of his patients were treated at no charge. Now, 46 years since the day he left us, a question arises: Has Oman overlooked the generosity of Dr Thoms?
The answer lies between the narrow alleys of Muttrah, where I was lucky enough to meet Justin Meyer at his office, which used to be home to Dr Thoms some 60 years ago.
He put me in touch with Peter Thoms, the second of the late doctor’s four children. Cut from the same cloth, Peter Thoms followed his father’s footsteps and became a doctor, specalising in family care. “My parents loved Oman. Oman was home,” he recalled.
“They loved Omanis, as was so wonderfully demonstrated over three decades of tireless work, and they spoke fondly of their work at the churches they visited in the USA,” Peter added.
He also expressed his hope to visit Oman again to celebrate its 50th National Day. “In Shalah, we will be able to be in Oman for Sultan Qaboos’ Jubilee celebration of his reign as Sultan,” he said. Peter was assigned, along with his father, to serve in Oman in 1939.
“The assignment to Oman as a permanent assignment was my father’s request. It was not a popular assignment because of the oppressive summer heat, but Dad’s heart was in Oman and he cherished being there,” Peter Thoms said.
“All our childhood playmates were Omanis, so we learned Arabic (and a smattering of Baluchi) which was put to good use the year I spent practicing medicine,” he added. Asked what his father’s final words were, Peter Thoms said, “I cannot remember any last words. Mom and his four children were at his bedside in New Orleans, Louisiana when he died.”
“I do remember that he was at peace, having served his Master faithfully, and remembering the familiar words from Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd,” he said.
Peter and his wife, Cheryl, share eight married children, 22 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. The couple live in Flint, Michigan, where he still practices medicine. It is safe to say that Dr Thoms is still profoundly remembered by many elderly Omanis, and heard of by the younger ones.
Take, for example, Um Salah, a 65-year-old Omani woman who still remembers Thoms.
“He treated my eyes and made me glasses to wear,” she recalled.
“He was a nice, very nice gentleman, and he was speaking Arabic, too,” Um Salah said, adding that she still keeps pictures of the doctor. David G Dickason, his son-in-law, is writing a biography of Dr Thoms.
“Always very busy (Thoms), he was involved in doing good wherever he went. This made it difficult for him to write his own memoir or autobiography, and he did not seem interested in doing that until after he retired and left Oman,” Dickason told the Times of Oman. But death did not spare Thoms in sharing his stories. Dickason has finished 19 chapters of the book, which is scheduled to be completed by mid-2017.
“He was fluent in Arabic,” he recalled, adding that Thoms’ major commitment was to restore health to the Arab Gulf people.
He stressed that Omanis should know that Dr. Wells Thoms had a “great love for Oman and Omanis.”
“Dr. Thoms did not come to Oman for money, for he died a rather poor man,” Dickason said.
After devoting his life to the people of Oman, Thoms passed away on October 17, 1971. According to Dickason, words from the Holy Bible are inscribed on his grave,“Such as I have give I thee.”