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RAK remembers its ‘Angel of the Desert’
Ruth Willis, RAK's very own Florence Nightingale
The late Ruth Willis is so beloved by people in Ras Al Khaimah, some believe they wouldn't be alive if she hadn’t been there to treat their forefathers.

Ever heard of the ‘Angel of the Desert’, or the ‘Mother of Medicine’?
She is the late Ruth Willis, who recently passed away at the age of 80 in London, the woman who founded the first medical centre in Ras Al Khaimah, back in 1966. Representatives from RAK and the rest of the UAE, including the attaché, attended her funeral in the UK.
“She was a quiet, humble and dedicated woman,” retired Lt Colonel David Neild — Founder of RAK Mobile Defence Force in 1969, the 4th private army along the coast after the British announced its withdrawal from the Trucial States — told Khaleej Times on Monday.
Ruth was so beloved by people in the northern emirate, some believe they would not have come into this world if she hadn’t been there to treat their forefathers back in the day, when there was no hospital.
“There were no doctors at the time; only very basic health services,” Lt Col Neild said. Everything changed after she came here in 1966, before the formation of the UAE. “She was devoted to helping people, and everybody here loved and trusted her,” Neild noted. She was a very well-qualified nursing sister who had already spent two years in Aden, Yemen, previously.
Ruth was widely known as Mariam here — a name that was given to her by the former Ruler of the emirate, the late Shaikh Saqr bin Mohammed, father of His Highness Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.
“She used to spend a lot of time in the mountains and outlying communities to treat people with cholera, polio, and malnutrition,” Neild said. “It was not an easy job; she would go by foot or on donkey-back, and later in her Land Rover.”
A woman who singlehandedly took up the task, “she was best described as ‘Angel of the desert’; a nickname she was shy about, as she did not like praise. She was so unassuming and humble.”
Though she has passed, Ruth is still alive in the hearts of the people here. “Ruth was a true friend of everybody here. Back in 2013, His Highness Shaikh Saud invited her back to RAK to see the emirate’s massive transformation.”
In his surprising memoir — A Soldier in Arabia — Neild’s account of his life in the region since 1959, he elaborated Ruth’s first impressions of the hospital in RAK. “‘Pills were handed out or the lucky few got an injection. There were bottles of disinfectant... three syringes with about 10 really blunt looking needles.’
“From this less-than-basic start, Ruth established a hospital to be proud of, and many RAK subjects were brought into the world by this incredibly caring woman.

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