American missionary Lorraine Gribbens dies on Dec 30, 2009


SIBU: Farewell to Lorraine Gribbens: Beloved and Amazing Pharmacist of Christ Hospital, and been one of the most amazing people in Sarawak.

Gribbens in her younger days and recent photo

Gribbens in her younger days and recent photo

Gribbens, also an American missionary passed away on  Dec 30, 2009.

According to blogger, Chang Yi, who is also a retired teacher here and now residing in Miri, she received two emails from far away to tell her about Gribbens passing.

“In times like this, one has to share some stories with a friend and one could not be just alone with the memories – I am lucky to have a friend to share with. I drove to see Flor,” she wrote.

Flor was the Methodist Girls’ Hostel Matron from 1958 to 1972.

She is originally from the Philippines and has been married to Eddy Woodford since 1965. Gribbens was Flor’s bridesmaid in December 1965.

Gribbens and the other bridesmaids wore beautiful blue gowns while the bride and groom were in Filipino national costumes.

The Kapit Methodist Chinese Church had never seen such an international wedding before.

Flor was sad to know of Gribbens’ passing (she has heard from all her friends already). Gribbens was “a helping angel and a good and dependable friend in the last 50 years!”

Gribbens visited Miri when she last came to see Sarawak and her friends and there was a gathering in her honour.

The coloured photos have become faded but good memories have lasted.

“Miss Lorraine as we called her when she was working in Christ Hospital Kapit was well loved by all who worked with her and by those who knew her.

“She was a ‘mother’ to many children whom she supported .  And even after she left for the US she continued to send them money regularly. Her heart was for the Kayans and Iban children.

“She was a very cheerful soul and a great motivator. I was thoroughly mesmerized by her when she took us to the Youth Camp in Rumah Giman in Ulu Sarikei.

“Small then all of us in physique she outwalked us up the hills and down the vales. Peter Lau (KTS) carrying a suitcase and many loaves of bread braved the rain and was almost running behind her. We trailed slowly far behind.

“It was God who brought her to Kapit by default. Perhaps the default was not commonly used then. She herself did not know that she would be posted to Sarawak. She allowed God to send her according to her purpose,” Chang related.

Gribbens was born on Chicago’s South side to Emma and Lee Earl Gribbens. Her mother died of cancer when Gribbens was only eight years old, and her father of heart problems nine months later.

The uncle who was to adopt her died six months later before he could do so. Cared for by various relatives, she moved from place to place.

She attended five grammar schools, including one in California, from which she graduated, and Lake View High School in Chicago.

Her first job was in 1938 as a proof-reader for $8.00 a week, a job she had for five years, Gribbens then found another job in a war manufacturing plant.

By working nights and going back to high school during the day/an “older woman” among teenagers, she picked up some science and math courses she had missed.

God had plans for her! When the war ended, the plant closed. An acquaintance, whom she has not seen since that time, mentioned that the University of Illinois at Chicago needed laboratory workers and the direction of her life was altered forever.

She served as a lab assistant in the blood bank and studied at the same time. Later she enrolled as full time student of pharmacy.

In 1953 she received a BS in Pharmacy.

The Dean of the College hired her as a Research Associate preparing allergenic extracts for skin testing in the Pharmacy Department at the University. Gribbens loved her work, but felt God was pushing her to do something else with her profession.

Inspired to work in the mission field in 1958 she was on her way to Sarawak, Borneo, as pharmacist at Christ Hospital, working primarily for the Ibans.

For several months she studied the Iban language and Mandarin.

She planned for three years in Sarawak but she stayed 18 years perhaps the longest any American missionary had stayed since the Hoovers.

While on her first leave in 1964, Gribbens was commissioned as a missionary, and also began work toward a Master’s degree in Christian Education at Scarritt College in Nashville.

During her years in Sarawak, the Methodist Church built a modern hospital, and developed a Community Health and Motivation Programme (Chempro), a key factor in giving immunisations, doing public health teaching and helping prevent communicable diseases.

The hospital is now operated by the Malaysian government; Chempro continues under the church.

After leaving Sarawak she did not retire. She went to work in Fiji and left only in 1978. In 1979 Gribbens went to Harlan, Kentucky as a staff pharmacist at the Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital.

After retiring in 1985, Lorraine again heard God’s call, and, with some reluctance at first, was on her way to start out once more in another country to learn another language. She went to serve as a volunteer in Hospital Lumiere in Haiti, at the very time the chief pharmacist developed cancer and had to return permanently to the United States. His successor soon left for the US on leave.

Gribbens took over from her, but when she was ready to leave Haiti, the man who was to replace her was killed in an automobile accident.

Once again, her 2-year term became a 3 1/4 year term, but, as she says, “God knew when help would be needed, so there I was.”

The two pharmacies included one in the hospital and one in a clinic 25 miles away. Five different governments were in power during her service there.

Articles about and by Gribbens have been published in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, and in Christianity and Pharmacy.

She was one of 13 pharmacists, and the only woman, whose autobiography appeared in the book Remarkable Pharmacists, published in 1973.

It was interesting to note that one of the other pharmacists was Hubert H. Humphrey, obviously better known for some of his later pursuits!

After retiring (again!), Gribbens moved to Asheville, living first at Givens Estate, and now at Brooks-Howell. She was very active in Biltmore United Methodist Church, as well as in the local and district United Methodist Women.

As part of the Blue Ridge Braillers, she also helped school children in North Carolina by transcribing Braille-lessons, books and tests-a-skill she learned prior to going to Borneo in 1958.

As amazing as her life story, was the large circle of friendships she maintained from every period of her life.

The missionaries who worked in Sarawak will miss her dearly. And so will many of the young Sarawakians whom she “trained and touched” while she was here.

May God bless her soul.

She is definitely heaven bound. The information of the late Gribbens is also available at