Dr. John Guyer was a large figure in the foreign mission work of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Thailand. He was the tallest missionary who had ever served in Chiang Mai, and his shadow was large in many ways.
I will leave it to others with access to historical archives to write a thorough biographical sketch. Instead, I will write personal reminiscences in behalf of our generation who counted on him to be a role model as well as primary care physician.
John’s specialty, he told me carefully, was internal medicine. “I am an internist,” he said. Then he explained that his field was recently developed to differentiate it from general practice as well as other specialties such as surgery or pediatrics. He tried to cure people with pills, he explained. He was also one of the best diagnosticians in the country.
John was on the staff of McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai when I arrived in town in August 1965. As I remember it, Dr. Boonchom Ariwongse was head of the hospital and Dr. Pipat Trangratakit was the general manager. Drs. Harold and Harriet Hanson and Dr. Ed McDaniel were other Presbyterian medical doctors at McCormick, along with Miss Helene Newman who was a midwife and instructor of midwives. McCormick was just about the only hospital in town with Suan Dawk Hospital just getting started as a university medical center with help from the University of Illinois, and other hospitals being what we would now call clinics.
So, one of the first lessons I learned is that the time had come when missionaries no longer “ran things” but were integral parts of organizations. Still, John and others were mentors for newly graduated physicians and nursing staff. They also helped the hospital develop infrastructure, a major one being a fully functional modern medical technology unit and laboratories. When Dr. Boonchom retired and Dr. Pipat was urgently moved to Bangkok Christian Hospital to help it through a transitional crisis, Dr. John reluctantly assumed the role as ACTING medical director. John wanted nothing to do with putting Americans permanently back into administrative positions in place of Thai officials.
A second lesson I learned is that McCormick Hospital considered its mission to be in fulfillment of Christ’s charge for his disciples to heal the sick and to make disciples. John’s understanding was that this was a corporate mandate; no one person on the hospital staff was to try to do everything. John consistently advocated the acquisition of specialties, which meant hiring specialists. This risky expense was, naturally, not unopposed; it is a credit to John Guyer that McCormick Hospital remained at the top of the list of hospitals outside of Bangkok as long as it did. Similarly, he prevailed in installing a new position of chaplain on the hospital staff, whose responsibilities and authority were not less than that of physicians, therapists and nurses. With John’s encouragement I spent a month in the Philippines studying how to develop a clinical pastoral education program to be run by McCormick Hospital and the Thailand Theological Seminary. Although our CPE program was not adopted, John’s project was implemented to have chaplains be fully educated seminary graduates (rather than “evangelists”). All the while in word, manner, and deed, John was a witness to the love and compassion of Christ, the Great Physician, as countless grateful patients (including me) can testify.
A third lesson was that a Christian is also a member of a Christian congregation in order to receive instruction and inspiration, but also to provide support and encouragement. In that regard, John was active in three ways. First, he was a member (and I believe an elected elder) in the First Thai Church of Chiang Mai. The Rev. Boonyeun Nataneti was the pastor. Second, John was an active member in a missionary and ex-pat worshiping fellowship that became Chiang Mai Community Church a full-fledged congregation in the Church of Christ in Thailand in 1967. Third, John and his wife Betsy were active missionary co-workers with a range of responsibilities and relationships with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a number of churches in the USA that established a particular interest in their work here in Chiang Mai.
Finally, John was a Rotarian. He was one of the founding members (I believe) of the Chiang Mai Rotary Club, the first Rotary club in Chiang Mai. He was president of the club for at least one term and attended district gatherings. This gave him access to other community leaders and recognition in the community, which he always tried to have reflect beneficially onto the church and hospital rather than on himself.
Word has reached us that Dr. John Guyer died on January 1, 2018. May God’s soothing hand rest on Betsy, Janet, and Jim and his family, as well as on all of us who remember John Guyer gratefully and fondly. In the end, as McCormick professes on every sack of medicine it dispenses from its pharmacy that John helped develop, “We provide medicine but Christ heals.” The final healing is into eternal peace and salvation.
Thanks to the Payap University Archives for these two vintage pictures of Dr. John Guyer.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.