Dr. Tom Rees.

One of the founders of AMREF

Dr Tom Rees

Tom Rees is the sole surviving founder of AMREF and its Flying Doctors Service.

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 founder Michael Wood had attended the same programme the year before. It would be through Sir Archibald McIndoe that both 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. Tom is now usually expected in East Africa at least once a year. Buy a copy of "Daktari - A Surgeon's Adventures with Flying Doctors of East Africa", written by Tom Rees.

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 African Medical and Research Foundation 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 who had been in East Africa since 1948 and the new AMREF venture. Tom had another challenge on his hands. He was establishing his own practice.

But he also faced up to the challenge of raising funds for Africa. His wife, Nan, a fashion model and quite the activist took on the fundraising efforts and took them on tirelessly, such as a performance with the legendary Jazz artist, Miles Davies at the Carnegie Hall and other events such as 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 in 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.

He has been an avid aviator, skier, fly fisherman and horseman. His current passion is sculpting African people and animals found in Africa. He now resides in Quogue, New York, and Santa Fe, New Mexico with wife Nan.

AMREF's first mission

In 1957, Michael Wood, one of the three founding surgeons of AMREF consulted the famous Dr Albert Schweitzer at his Leprosy Mission Hospital in Lambarene, West Africa. How, he asked can we serve the 80% of rural Africans who live beyond the reach of urban medical facilities? "Use the tools of our time," was his answer. Aeroplanes and radios were the tools of that time and became the framework of AMREF.