THE President of Brazil has paid a warm tribute to a Bangor man who passed away recently.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he was saddened by the death of Dr Bill Woods OBE, a doctor and missionary who devoted his life to fighting leprosy in South America, earning him the affectionate moniker, the Angel of the Amazon.

Dr Woods spent his career bringing relief to people with a much-stigmatised disease, and passed away in Bangor last week, where he spent the last of his 86 years following a battle with cancer. 

Describing Dr Woods as a ‘personal friend’, President da Silva paid tribute to work of the Bangor man who fought leprosy for many years and is credited with advancing treatment of the disease across the continent.

“William John Woods was a missionary of the Baptist church and a doctor who worked in Acre and Amazonas,” said the President.

“Dr. Guilherme, as he was called, was also known as the ‘leprosy doctor’ in the 1970s and 1980s, when those affected by the disease were stigmatised in the country.

“He worked in cities, in rubber plantations and indigenous territories, providing support to those who needed medical care. With sadness I received the news of his death. To the family, my condolences.

“To the doctors who find him an inspiration, may the good teachings of Dr. Guilherme remain.”

Dr Woods was originally from east Belfast and received his OBE in 1997 from the late Queen, rewarding a lifetime of service in his specialist field.

He had further links with the borough, spending the war in the Old Schoolhouse in Ballygowan, before setting off for Brazil’s Amazon Basin to help fight leprosy and rare tropical skin diseases.

Even after his retirement in North Down, Dr Woods continued to consult with his former colleagues in Brazil, to help guide them through the myriad of treatments for the region’s indigenous people.

The youngest of five children, Dr Woods was called to full-time missionary work following his attendance at Ravenhill Road Free Presbyterian Church. 

Paying a moving tribute to Dr Woods, North Down MLA Stephen Dunne said he was very saddened by his passing, but revealed how a death on the other side of the world propelled the physician on his missionary path.

“After hearing of the tragic death of a young missionary, Mrs Ina Orr in Brazil, Bill became convinced that he was meant to serve in Brazil.

“Bill Woods arrived in Brazil in 1960 where he quickly learned Portuguese and became involved in ‘river ministry’ along the isolated tributaries of the Amazon River. 

“Through his early experiences in Brazil, Bill saw first hand the debilitating effects leprosy was having on the lives of local people,” Mr Dunne recounted.

It was in 1968 that a young William moved to Manaus, Brazil, to begin medical studies and in 1974 he topped his graduation class to become Dr William Woods MD. 

Using his newly acquired skills Bill, by then fluent in Portuguese, began his work as the co-coordinator of the leprosy programme for the Brazilian state of Acre, helping to bring relief to thousands of leprosy sufferers and bring leprosy under control within the Amazon region of Brazil.

Mr Dunne continued: “Bill was an incredible man who worked so faithfully, humbly and diligently for so many years as a missionary and medical doctor in Brazil.”

“Bill’s incredible work with people suffering from leprosy led to him becoming affectionately known as the ‘Angel of the Amazon. In the final years of his life, Bill continued to be an inspiration to both young and old alike, spending much of his time at home in Bangor.

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere sympathy to his family and friends as they mourn the loss of a truly remarkable and gracious gentleman who left behind a wonderful legacy and testimony.’

Donaghadee councillor Janice MacArthur, added her own words of tribute to the late doctor.

“Dr Bill as I knew him, moved to Bangor several years ago following a cancer diagnosis. But even in ill health and old age, he continued to assist and advise his team in Brazil in the treatment of lepers and other rare tropical skin diseases.  

“The title of his biography best describes his personal impact on tens of thousands in that remote corner of the world: ‘The Angel of the Amazon’.

“A tiny man in stature, he was one of life’s giants, inspiring everyone that met him. Well done, good and faithful servant,” she said.