By CRF editor, Jul 31 2019 08:07AM
“I will support Calcutta Rescue until the day I die,” said Baroness Tessa Blackstone at a retirement tea party she hosted for founder Dr Jack Preger. Resplendent in a suit, tie and shoes, for the first time in decades, Dr Jack told guests assembled at the House of Lords in London on July 4 that many years ago he had taken the baroness to visit his clinic in Nimtala on the banks of the Hooghly River, and the people living behind it in tiny shacks next to the railway line. Seeing the harsh reality of life for the poor in Kolkata, and the outstanding work Calcutta Rescue was doing to help them, made her a life-long supporter of the charity. Dr Jack said: “I don’t think anywhere in the world people are living in worse conditions than along the filthy canals and rubbish dumps of Kolkata.”
Also speaking at the event was Dr Jim Withers the founder and director of the US-based Street Medicine Institute who said that Dr Jack inspired not just his work but that of a generation of doctors and nurses working with the poorest of the poor around the world. He said: "It is impossible to measure the impact of his career in terms of the breadth of the lives saved and those inspired to service. It is equally difficult to measure the depth of the heart and soul that served the most destitute for over 40 years with humility, humor and professional excellence.”
Dr Jack paid tribute to all those who have supported Calcutta Rescue over the years, either by donating money or volunteering, and urged them to continue to back the charity’s work now that he has retired. He said: “Its is a credit to you all how much we have achieved since the beginning. It was done almost entirely with the money you have raised over so many years.”
Noting the importance of a dozen projects run by Calcutta Rescue he paid particular tribute to the charity’s street medicine programme, whose two ambulance-based clinics are now bringing healthcare into the heart of 19 slums: “It is a pride and joy, serving some of the most needy people in Kolkata. The work is unique - in the scale of it, the number of settlements we are seeing and the scope of the work.”
A live web link with the team in Kolkata allowed them to send him their best wishes for his retirement.
Many of the 150 staff have worked at Dr Jack’s side for decades and he praised their extraordinary dedication: “The staff need to be recognised. They get up at dawn, travel in to work in terrible conditions on public transport, work all day then struggle to get home at night.”