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Gladys grieves, but without hatred

Baripada, Sept. 10: At six feet, she stood tall among the people who crowded around her. Even the slender trees near her spartan home here appeared shorter as she walked around the outpatient department building for leprosy patients which is under construction.

As she awaits the verdict in the Graham Staines murder case, the widow of the Australian-born missionary who was burnt alive inside his station wagon along with sons Philip and Timothy on January 22, 1999, betrays little emotion. Gladys June Staines was a picture of strength on Monday when a CBI court in Bhubaneswar deferred the verdict till September 15. She had no hatred for the 15 accused who were part of the mob that killed her loved ones.

“Forgiveness brings healing. It allows the other person a chance to start life afresh. If I have something against you and I forgive you, the bitterness leaves me,” she said, masking her sense of loss.

Inmates at the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home here, which Gladys now runs, say she has always been like that. She had sat among the grieving inmates at her husband’s funeral mass but, unlike them, did not cry.

Four years later, Gladys’ composure is as steely as ever while visiting the home four times a week or running after the Orissa chief minister and bureaucrats to clear obstacles coming in the way of a planned 40-bed leprosy referral hospital here.

“God is my source of encouragement, a source of strength,” Gladys says. With daughter Esther, 13, away at a boarding school in Ooty, prayer has been her source of strength. “For me it’s not a ritual,” she says, adding that she prays whenever she finds the time.

Work on the hospital coming up in Graham’s memory takes up most of her time. “If I find time, I write letters to my friends and relatives and even my father at Australia through e-mail,” she says, adding that she is fond of writing.

Most women would have been overwhelmed by the tragedy, but Gladys had no time to grieve. Barely four months after her husband and sons were killed, her 90-year-old mother died at her Brisbane village. But even as the losses piled up, the trained nurse was back at the leprosy home to continue what Graham had left incomplete.

Clad in a yellow sari, Gladys drove to the leafy environs of the home yesterday to hold the scarred hands of the inmates and nurse their wounds, smiling all along. “She is like a godmother,” said Laxmidhar Nayak, a leprosy patient who has come here from Mayurbhanj’s Guntibari village for treatment.

Graham may not be on the scene, but there is no difference in the care provided at the home, which now houses 65 patients. Many of them were driven out of their homes or pronounced dead by relatives after they contracted leprosy.

Samuel, 40, was driven out of his home in Damodarpur village 20 years ago while Rai Ho of Purunapani village was declared dead. But the inmates still manage to smile thanks to Gladys’ efforts. The home not only treats them, but also provides rehabilitation training. It also has its own dairy farm.

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