Norman B. Abell

Norman B. Abell, 1947

B.A., Denison University
M.D., University of Rochester
M.P.H., John Hopkins University

Citation awarded May, 2002

Norman Abell and Jean Brokaw, co-recipients of this Citation, met at Denison in 1943 and were married after graduation in 1947, both Phi Beta Kappa, Norm with honors. Norm earned an M.D. from the University of Rochester, and Jean a master’s in education from Brockport State Teachers College, part of the State University of New York system. Initially appointed to Burma by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, but unable to obtain visas, they eventually were assigned to the then Belgian Congo. Norm was the sole doctor for a 100-bed hospital, also supervising a small nursing school and rural dispensaries.

After polio put an end to Norm’s surgical career in 1961, he specialized in nursing education, until in 1967, he became medical secretary for the Church of Christ in Congo.

In 1973, Norm studied at the Johns Hopkins University for the master’s in public health, preparing to specialize in rural community health and preventative medicine. He created and supervised rural health centers staffed by nurses and village health workers, promoting vaccination, hygiene, and better nutrition. Norm helped the churches of northern Angola plan for health care after independence. When civil war broke out in that country, he worked in Congo with the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and various churches to offer health care in refugee camps and villages. These initiatives became a part of the nationwide Rural Health Zone network largely supported by the USAID, now being revived to rebuild the nation’s ruined medical infrastructure in the wake of recent wars.

Jean’s teaching, in each of the six locations where Norm’s assignments took them, covered the spectrum from elementary to high school to specialized subjects in nursing schools, and Bible school, in any of four languages of French, Kikongo, Kituba, and English. Her final contribution was an innovative method if teaching reading to first graders. She also partially home-schooled her and Norm’s children.

The couple served in the Congo until retirement in 1991. In their last term, they started a new nursing school at the Kikongo Baptist Hospital. Most satisfying to Norm was training senior Congolese nurses to administer rural hospitals and health centers. He also helped train Congolese doctors in public health initiatives, and turned the leadership of each program he developed over to a Congolese physician.

Norm’s brother, David R. Abell, is a member of Denison’s class of 1956. Their father, the late DeWitt Sterling Abell was a member of the class of 1920. The family also includes a number of other Denisonians. Jean’s cousin, Virginia Brokaw James, graduated in 1949.