Obituary: Pomeroy woman who became Hong Kong health boss

Mary Rafferty
Mary Rafferty

Mary Rafferty grew up on a Co Tyrone farm and struggled to attain her school qualifications.

Nonetheless, she went on to become a leading health figure in one of the world’s most thriving metropolises, before her unexpected death at 53.

Born on June 11, 1961, she was the daughter of Peter Rafferty, a dairy farmer, and Kathleen Fox, a housewife.

She was one of seven children and grew up in Gortnagarn, outside Pomeroy, with the whole family pitching in to help on the farm.

She was educated at St Mary’s primary school in Pomeroy before going on to attend Dean Maguire College in Carrickmore.

Her brother Colm said: “Whenever she did her O-Levels at Carrickmore, she scraped through them. She just got enough to get her into nursing. But when she got in, she just flew.”

He said she studied at the City Hospital in Belfast, and then also trained as a midwife.

Asked what drove her into a health career, Colm said a number of aunts had been nurses. He added she was the eldest of her siblings, too.

“She was looking after everybody and, living on a farm, there were always plenty of knocks and drama,” he said.

Once she qualified, she moved to Saudi Arabia.

It was a well-paid job which allowed her to indulge her desire for travel.

However, the Saudi government’s harsh interpretation of Islam chafed with her.

Colm said: “She was very big on trying to get women to lower their veil when they went into hospital. She would encourage them to be women, as such. She was very into pushing women’s rights and that type of thing.

“She had many stories about going to these illegal beach parties where they had alcohol. In fact, that’s where she met her husband.”

Mike Goodlet, a Scottish vet, was also working in Saudi. Although she sometimes used the surname Rafferty-Goodlet, she was usually known simply by the surname Rafferty.

The two of them went backpacking after they wed, travelling around Asia and working along the way.

During a visit to Hong Kong, Mary was offered a three-month contract at a Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital.

After her contract ended, she penned a letter to the hospital bosses, pointing out changes she believed should be made to hospital care.

When she arrived home in Northern Ireland, she received a fax from the hospital offering her a full-time job.

She learned to speak Cantonese and later moved to the private Hong Kong Matilda Hospital, rising to become its first female CEO.

Colm said: “For the first 10 years, it was a 24/7 job. She lived on the premises of the hospital.”

She died while attending a health conference in Iceland.

She arrived at her hotel, got a cup of tea, and lay down in bed. She never got up again.

The cause of her death on April 15 was unknown, and initially the circumstances were thought unusual enough to involve the police – although there was nothing untoward and it is understood she died from a brain haemorrhage.

Her funeral was in Pomeroy’s Catholic chapel on April 25, attended by as many as 700 mourners from the UK, USA, and Hong Kong. She was buried at its churchyard, alongside her mother.

A memorial service was also held at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Hong Kong, on May 20.

She is survived by widower Dr Mike Goodlet, brothers Peadar, Pat, Pearse, Colm and Plunkett, and sister Celine. Her father also survives her. She never had children.