Bilquis Bano Edhi passed away last Friday; plunging the country into shock and grief. Caught up in hectic political storms over the past three weeks, people could reasonably be excused for not even learning about her terminal illness. Less than six years ago, on July 8, 2016, the nation had lost her legendary husband, Abdul Sattar Edhi, who was accorded a State Funeral. At that time, she had decided to remain a co-chair of Pakistan’s largest one-stop-shop for humanitarian services, including the world’s largest volunteer ambulance (over 1,800) network, homeless shelters, animal shelters, rehabilitation centres and orphanages across the country, while allowing her son Faisal to slip in his father’s shoes in heading her Foundation. Yet, the nation must surely be highly cognizant of the fact that she spearheaded the most humane and humanistic dimensions of the organisation. She was the fairy godmother of around 20,000 abandoned neonates and 50,000 other children in her orphanages, predominantly females, whom she had rescued from almost certain death, handed over some to well-to-do families after careful scrutiny, or brought them up under her personal supervision and arranging their weddings before letting them go. In doing so, she not only directly benefitted hundreds of thousands of lives directly but also created a legacy that will be hard to emulate for her granddaughter now assigned to look after those most crucial projects so carefully nurtured by her, literally with her blood and sweat. But who exactly was Bilquis Edhi and why will this grateful nation never forget her needs closer examination. Born on February 28, 1928, Abdul Sattar Edhi was encouraged by his mother to share half his pocket money with those in greater need of those small coins. That was a lesson he never forgot. He had a penchant for socialism in its purest form, not to be confused with any existing political system in the world. He believed that humanity was the best religion and unwittingly joined the club of those who do “goodliness without Godliness.” He believed in actions, not words and thought that was the way forward in furthering his mission during this brief sojourn that we call life. I know this personally, having worked with the venerable gentleman during the course of my duties in the management of Civil Hospital Karachi, now named after Dr Ruth Pfau, from 1986 to 1994. Yet, he did all his work while maintaining a low profile and never sought publicity. I once introduced him to an American diplomat, who had come to take possession of a US national killed during the Pan-Am hijacking and whose body he was cleaning at that time in the hospital’s shabby mortuary. Bilquis cried for her husband, while Tehmina cried as she knew she was losing an old friend whom she regarded as her mother. Earlier, his charitable activities got a surge around the time of my birth in August 1956 and began to encompass even humanitarian responses across the country’s borders. The 1965 War necessitated the full use of all his human and financial resources and incidentally the next year, he married Bilquis, who was only 19 at that time; having been born on Independence Day in 1947, and who would subsequently help him around the clock in all his endeavours. One day, his trust would be renamed after her name. It goes to her credit that following his death at the age of 88, Bilquis Edhi’s mission was not retarded but actually accelerated. The last time I met Abdul Sattar Edhi was in 2015 at a well-attended diplomatic reception in Karachi. While walking on the spacious lawn, sipping soda and meeting everyone I knew, my eyes suddenly fell on him sitting in a secluded corner all by himself avoiding the high and mighty. I joined him and not sure he would recognize me, introduced myself and reminded him of the Poor Patients’ Aid Society we had established at Civil Hospital Karachi with him as the first President and how he had been supplying meat to our hospital kitchen; enabling the provision of high protein meals to all patients. He told me he was still doing the same. We used to provide him with our entire government provisions for the kitchen so that the provincial Finance Department would not stop our allocations for diet on the grounds that we did not spend it. He would take the money and send an equivalent amount to the Donation Fund of our Society; enabling us to provide a variety of meals to the patients. To return to Bilquis Edhi, she singlehandedly rescued over 20,000 abandoned infants through baby cots or hatches at all her centres with notices requesting persons not to kill their unwanted babies but instead place them there and ensure that they would be looked after with unfailing care. In addition, she rehabilitated over 50,000 orphans and trained over 40,000 nurses in 330 welfare centres located across the country, that provided shelter to abandoned women and children, and appropriate care for the handicapped purely through private donations put to the best possible use both in Pakistan and in any country in need of humanitarian response in the face of a major disaster. She shared the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1986 with her husband and received the prestigious Hilal-e-Imtiaz from Pakistan, the Lenin Peace Prize from the USSR and the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice in 2015, in addition to scores of other national and international awards. Personally, I found the work of Bilquis Edhi to be more meticulous than even her equally noble husband. She usually made all the decisions concerning adoption on strictly merit-based criteria holding the best interests of the neonates or infants at heart. She also let the prospective parents get the children examined by Pediatricians to rule out HIV, Hepatitis B&C and any congenital issues, and mental or physical handicaps before consenting to the adoption. Likewise, she personally supervised her Nurses Training Centre, perhaps to make amends for her not having been a good nursing student herself years ago. She had also trained her children well. During my tenure as Head of WHO’s Sindh office, we were sending Faisal Edhi to an international conference, and I drafted a PowerPoint presentation for him and was quite impressed by his input in the same. I found the then young gentleman driven by the same passion as his parents and was least bothered about any reward for what they were doing either here on in the Hereafter. He asserted that he was working only for humanity at large with no other interest. Bilquis Edhi herself had no inhibitions in washing mutilated bodies during the 1971 war along with her husband and other volunteers. Her children, including her daughters, also joined social work even before they came of age. Through their dedication, the couple had humbled every ruler of Pakistan at least over the last five decades. Bilquis Bano Edhi left this mortal world on April 15, 2022, after having led a full life throughout her 74 odd years, yet her services will never be forgotten by a grateful nation. She was a mother to those who had no one else to look toward and was involved in so many other activities. Her name is included in The Muslim 500, a worldwide list of most influential Muslims. Forty-eight hours before she died, she had a final tearful meeting with the new First Lady Tehmina Durrani, who had already written a biography on Edhi Sahib. Bilquis cried for her husband, while Tehmina cried as she knew she was losing an old friend whom she regarded as her mother. Years of suffering at the cost of her health had led to heart and lung issues and she finally succumbed to congestive heart failure, despite the best medical treatment. April 16, 2022, was declared a day of mourning in Sindh, while she was buried in her ancestral graveyard in Karachi with full honours. Condolences poured in not only from everybody who is anybody in Pakistan, including diplomatic missions but from several countries around the world. Deep down, we all know we will never see the likes of such a couple again and can only hope their mission is sustained at all costs for the less fortunate population segments in Pakistan for whom they provide the only hope. For that reason, we hope and pray their granddaughter, Dr Rabia Edhi, sustains and enhances the scope of the adoption centres. As regards Abdul Sattar and Bilquis, they are already in a different and better sphere of life! Even the Heavens will bear witness to their monumental services for humanity all over this planet. The writer is a senior public health specialist in Pakistan and Editor in Chief (Public Health Action).