Dr. Thomas D. Rees †
Co-Founder Amref Health Africa
Tom Rees is one of the three founders of Amref Health Africa and the Flying Doctors of East Africa.
Dr. Rees was born to a Welsh Mormon family in America in 1927. At the age of 14, during a fishing trip, his father said to him, “I shall not mind what profession you choose, but I do hope that whatever it is, sometime in your life at least you will find a way to help other people.”
Tom’s family had a strong inclination for medicine and his father worried that young Tom would feel pressured into going in the same direction. There was no need for worry. Tom’s heart led him into medicine and in 1955, to East Grinstead on a Marks Plastic Surgery Fellowship, where he would be under the auspicious tutelage of Sir Archibald McIndoe. Fellow Amref Health Africa founder Michael Wood had attended the same program the year before. It would be through Sir Archibald McIndoe that Michael Wood and Thomas Rees would meet and become friends for life.
In the following year, Archie invited Tom to come on a trip, “which you will remember for the rest of your life!” According to Archie, Tom was bound to either love Africa or hate it. Love it he did, and he would return over and over again.
Towards the end of Tom’s first trip to Kenya, the three surgeons brainstormed on the idea of providing specialist health care to remote areas of East Africa together with reconstructive surgery as well as medical evacuations to hospitals capable of handling the emergency. Slowly the idea of the Amref Health Africa grew, and by the time both Archie and Tom were leaving for their respective countries, both pledged to do all they could to fundraise for their ‘Flying Doctor’ colleague Michael Wood, and the new venture. Tom also had another challenge on his hands. He was establishing his own practice.
But he faced up to the challenge of raising funds for Africa. His wife, Nan, a fashion model and quite the activist took on fundraising efforts tirelessly, such as a performance with the legendary Jazz artist Miles Davies at Carnegie Hall and other events such as the 1969 Safari Ball.
A frequent lecturer at medical institutions, symposia, and forums all over the world, Dr. Rees is also the author of more than 140 medical articles and six medical texts including the two-volume Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, classic for doctors-in-training, and More Than Just A Pretty Face (Little Brown), a book for the general public.
Dr. Rees’ surgical and academic career and his philanthropic work weren’t enough to occupy his time. He was also an avid aviator, skier, fly fisherman, horseman, saxophone player, sculptor and author of the book Daktari - A Surgeon's Adventures with Flying Doctors of East Africa. Nan and Tom Rees traveled extensively. The couple lived in New York City and Quogue, NY, before they retired to Santa Fe, NM.