ERODE: February 15 was a day of nostalgia for two Britishers who visited Erode. The town is very close to their heart as they were to their grandparents, who lived here about 110 years ago. When Penny Riley Smith (68), a retired teacher, and Simon Vitney (65), an architect, have been trying to trace their ancestral links in India, a message from researcher Ramesh, a resident of Erode, came as a surprise for them. For, he revealed them about their grandparents -- Rees and T C Vitney.
A quick recap
As narrated by Church of South India (CSI) missionary members to Ramesh, doctor Rees and her husband TC Vitney served people in the district between 1909-1924. It was a period of a medical emergency as diseases like tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera and malaria were widespread. Rees, who was practising medicine in England, was selected by London Missionary Society to treat female patients in Erode, who were unwilling to take medical care from male doctors.
In 1909, she set her foot in the town and treated patients in her bungalow. Within a few years, a CSI Hospital was built by the missionary, where she continued to extend her service. In 1913, she married T C Vitney at Erode CSI church. Her husband played a major role in establishing a CSI school. The couple had a son -- Allen, who finished schooling in the CSI school and flew back to England for higher education. Until 1917, the couple travelled across Tamil Nadu and extended their service. When Vitney died in Salem in 1949, Rees returned to England with her son.
Speaking to TNIE, Ramesh, who has been researching on the advent of missionaries and their service in the field of medicine and education in Erode, said, "During my research, I got to know that Rees was the first female doctor to visit Erode before the independence. The founder of CSI Church Antony Watson Brough had invited Rees to Erode in 1909 as female patients wanted to get treated by female practitioners. A few months back, I got in touch with Penny and Simon and told them about their grandparents."
Awed by development
During their one day visit to the town, they went to the CSI School, the CSI Nursing College, and the CSI Hospital -- all located on Brough Road.
An overwhelmed Simon said, "I am happy to see tremendous development in the school over the years. It feels great to see my grandmother's bungalow, which has been converted into a polytechnic college. More funding could help to bring in a cancer screening centre at the hospital."
The couple is planning to bring their grandchildren during their next visit.