One of the founders of AIC Kijabe Hospital, Dr. Bill Barnett, was called home to heaven last week at 106 years old.Following are are pictures and stories about the life and legacy Dr. Bill at AIC Kijabe Hospital and through East Africa. The first text is from an article in Old Africa Magazine and the Obituary is provided by the Barnett family.
AIM Medical Center, circa 1967, constructed by Dr. Arthur Barnett, Dr. Bill’s older brother. Dr. Bill Barnett [arrived] to take over the work his brother had started, explained, “That building [AIM Medical Center] was the entire hospital. It was thirty beds. It had an outpatient department at one end and it had a laboratory in it. And an office for the doctor. It had taken over one room which really belonged to the administrative side of it and turned it into an operating room. It was a small room that couldn’t have been…it was smaller than say from that wall to here, maybe twelve feet or so. When we came in there, it was thirty bed ward. It was at least a sixty patient ward. Two people to a bed, and sometimes a person down on the floor or a mat on the floor.” Dr. Bill, as he was fondly known by the hospital staff, led the expansion of the hospital from 30 to 130 beds [eventually 220 by the time construction had finished], built two operating theatres, found reliable water and electric sources, created the first all-Kenyan hospital board of directors, started remote work in northern Kenya and beyond, and attracted remarkable doctors and nurses to work alongside him.
Kijabe Hospital after expansion, circa 1980.
Dr. Bill installing an X-Ray machine at Kijabe
Dr. Bill Barnett operating with wife Laura, a nurse trained in anesthesia.
Dr. Barnett explains about the mission of Kijabe Hospital: “Because of our purpose of evangelism, well you know it didn’t take me long in working in medicine to come to the conclusion that we have no better, more effective way of reaching the people of the Lord than through medicine. Because the people come in to you with a deep, physical need already. And they respond to treatment that is given to them. And they understand the language of love.They can tell very quickly what a person’s attitude is toward them. And they begin to listen then with trust to what is being said to them.” In addition to the physical growth of the hospital that began with the Barnetts, the most significant expansion they began was formal training programs. Dr. Bill, who started his work at the time of Kenyan independence, saw the need for training both as security for the hospital and nation: “Here was a country that was becoming independent, and what was being done to prepare it to take care of itself? What would be the attitude of a new president toward the missionaries? We must start training. The way to start was to train nurses, not in a haphazard way, but to train at the [Registered Nurse] level so they could train others. What we need is [Kenyans] who love the Lord, who want to be nurses, and train at the top level.”
Early nursing class at Kijabe School of Nursing, now Kijabe College of Health Sciences.
Affectionately known as Dr. Bill, William J. Barnett, MD, died August 14, 2023 at 106 years old. His core commitment was to love and serve his Savior, Jesus Christ. His beloved wife, Laura Miller Lane Barnett, preceded him in death on July 31, 2012. They were married 68 years. He believed Laura was an integral part of all his accomplishments.
Grace and humility were paramount to Dr. Bill. He would refer to himself as very ordinary—painfully shy in early years, academically middle of the road, and a sinner—prone to wander from God. About age 13, he sat under a bush in Kijabe, Kenya, after reading through the small leather-bound New Testament mailed to him from the USA by his brothers. Bill became aware in a fresh way that his sin, shame, and guilt were lifted from him by Jesus’ sacrifice at the Cross. Bill personalized his trust in Jesus that day, and he symbolized this by inserting his name into John 3:16, written on the flyleaf of that gift:
“For God so loved Willie that He gave his one and only Son, that if Willie believes in Him, he shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Bill gave his life to God and expressed his gratitude through a lifetime commitment of worship, love, service, and faithfulness to his Lord. Very notable to his family was his willingness to ask forgiveness if he spoke unkindly to a family member or a friend. He also was gracious to forgive others. These loving actions shaped the lives of his children and are perhaps his greatest legacy.
Born May 29, 1917, in Kilombe, Kenya, Bill spent his childhood in Eldama Ravine, Kenya, and grew to love the people of East Africa. He was inspired by the work of his mother and father as they served and loved God and others faithfully. He attended Rift Valley Academy. After immigrating to the US at age 14, he completed high school in Columbia, SC, and attended Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University), Wheaton College, and Albany Medical School. He married Laura Lane in 1944. He later served as chief of surgery as well as commanding officer of an U.S. army hospital in Seoul, Korea (1947). In 1950, Bill and Laura joined Africa Inland Mission to serve and support the ministries of the Africa Inland Church. They moved to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) with their first three children to work at Kolandoto Hospital near Shinyanga. In 1963, now with six children, Bill and Laura took a new assignment in Kijabe, Kenya. This lasted until about 1980 when they participated with a team to launch a new work in the Comoro Islands until retirement in 1990. Their last stint of work in Africa was in 1993, when they spent six months in the Horn of Africa.
Dr. Bill’s years of growth, education, marriage, and work were rich and focused on further developing his love for Jesus and his desire to share the loving message of salvation in Christ with others through compassionate actions and words. With surgical and anesthesia training, experience in the army, and very dedicated study (his family recounts how in Africa he would study and formulate instruments for surgeries coming up the next day), he emerged as a very capable physician who performed most types of surgery, obstetrics, and primary care in remote settings. At some periods in his career, he was the only physician or surgeon in an area. He worked with excellent nurse leaders to develop two nursing schools (Kolandoto and Kijabe), served as a school doctor (Rift Valley Academy), administered outlying clinics, and functioned in innumerable ways, including renovating buildings and installing generators. Through it all, he cared for his family with evident love.
Dr. Bill Barnett is loved and remembered by thousands of patients and friends in Africa, the US, and around the world. He did not seek out recognition, but he was honored with these awards: elected into Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society in 1962; MAP International Ralph Blocksma Award, March 31, 1987; highest civilian honor conferred by the President of the Comoro Islands – Commandeur de l’Ordre du Croissant Vert des Comores on September 17, 1990; Columbia International University – 1996 Distinguished Alumnus; Albany Medical College Alumni Association – Humanitarian Award May 6, 2000; and Missionaries of the Year Award presented to Bill & Laura by Christian Medical & Dental Associations June 2001. Bill and Laura were also featured in the Parade Magazine on August 17, 1986, in “The Doctor of Hope”.
Dr. Bill sought to honor Jesus by offering “a cup of cold water” to any person he related to, no matter their circumstances. He did this through listening, prayer, study, surgery, mechanics, carpentry, grounds upkeep, jam making, fashioning canes, and other caring acts of service.
Dr. Bill turned to avid bike riding and other hobbies while battling low vision during retirement years. He enjoyed following sports, most notably the LA Lakers basketball team and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Dr. Bill often told how his dear wife Laura, in some of her last words, drew him close and whispered, “I’ll be waiting at the gate (of heaven) for you when it is your turn.” That turn has come for Bill, and he would want all to know of the deep love of Jesus inviting everyone to fellowship with Him.
Dr. Bill is survived by six children and their spouses, 26 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and many other family members and friends across the world.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9, one of Dr. Bill Barnett’s favorite verses
*Obituary provided by Barnett family, modified for length, original can be found here: https://www.tributearchive.com/obituaries/28719180/william-j-barnett