Larwood, Lens George (1941–1979) and Betty Jean Tinworth (1943–2014)
By Shirley Tarburton
Shirley Tarburton, M.Litt. (Distinction) (University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia) retired in 2008 after 40 years teaching church-school (mainly high school but including eight years at university). An Australian, she has taught in four mission fields, Australia, and New Zealand. She has authored five books and co-authored one on church history, biography and family history, as well as several magazine articles. She is married to Dr. Michael Tarburton with two adult children and four grandchildren.
First Published: January 29, 2020
Lens and Betty Larwood were medical missionaries at Atoifi Hospital on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands. In August 1979 Lens lost his life in the course of his duties in a tractor accident.
Lens George ‘Len’ Larwood was born in Subiaco, Western Australia (W.A.), on August 2, 1941, the first child of Melvin and Joyce Larwood. He was a fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) as his great-grandparents became charter members of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Perth (W.A.) in 1896-7.1 His grandparents were pioneer SDA missionaries to Samoa in 1917.2 Len grew up in Perth with his two younger sisters, Annita (who married Pr. Angus McPhee) and Carol (who married teacher, Ernie Beach), and a brother, Brian.3
All his schooling was obtained in Seventh-day Adventist schools, and he was baptized August 11, 1956.4 After graduating from Carmel College in 1960, he commenced nursing training at the Sydney Adventist Hospital (the SAN) gaining a reputation for thoroughness and an energetic approach to his work. He graduated in 1964 and during 1965, in Melbourne, completed a certificate course, furthering his knowledge of the treatment of Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat conditions. This was followed by a course in Theatre nursing.5
While training at the SAN, Len met Betty Jean Tinworth who was in his class. Soon after their graduation they became engaged. Betty was a third generation Adventist and a committed Christian. She was born September 6, 1943, the sixth of seven children of Leslie and Violet Tinworth, in Kingaroy, Queensland (Australia), where she attended the Kingaroy SDA School.6 In 1960 she was ready to commence training to be a nurse but had to wait a year because she was too young. So she spent a year at Avondale College taking a course in dressmaking.7 After graduating from the SAN she spent 1965 at the Royal Queen Victoria hospital in Launceston, Tasmania (Australia) obtaining her midwifery certificate.8 Towards the end of that year, she and Len were appointed to Atoifi Adventist Hospital in the Solomon Islands commencing 1966.9 They married in Kingaroy on March 20, 196610 and two weeks later left for the Solomon Islands, arriving April 5.11
Atoifi Adventist Hospital was a new mission station still in the establishment phase. It was located far from any town or other missionaries and accessible only by sea. One of their classmates, Brian Dunn, had arrived there the previous November to be the first Business Manager and Director of Nursing but had been murdered less than a month later by the local devil priest and his foster son. When Lens and Betty arrived to replace Brian and his wife, Val, at this isolated mission, there were just a few structures in a clearing carved from the jungle. The hospital was only half built, there were two staff houses, and all other workers were accommodated in simple structures of bush timber and leaf thatch.12
Under Len’s administration, over the next thirteen years, this 91-bed hospital became a vital health facility, the only hospital serving a population of over 60,000 people.13 His first task was to facilitate the completion of the hospital in preparation for the arrival of the doctor and the commencement of medical services.14
After the initial building was completed, Len continued adding improvements and extensions. A male tuberculosis ward, extensions to the theatre and laboratory, and a school of nursing were built. He not only oversaw the work but did a lot of it himself in between his duties in the hospital. He improved staff accommodation by providing a number of concrete houses and two blocks of nurses’ quarters for the single nurses. He recruited skilled volunteers to work on these projects and to provide any expertise he lacked.15
In 1973 Len devised and built a hydro-electricity generating plant to replace the expensive diesel generator, thus saving thousands of dollars each year.16 In 1974 he took a year’s study leave to gain qualifications in Hospital Administration at Brisbane University and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.17
All Atoifi’s building materials and other supplies had to come by ship – generally from Australia, often taking months to arrive. Between 1973 and 1975, Len built an airstrip, much of it on reclaimed swamp, to place Atoifi within 10 flying hours of Australia and only an hour from the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara.18 The first landing on the strip was accomplished by the Western Pacific Union Mission plane on December 2, 1975.19
Len regularly conducted week-long medical foot-patrols in the mountains behind the mission station through heathen villages and Christian villages alike, breaking down barriers, treating a wide range of medical conditions, and sharing the love of Jesus wherever he went. He was often asked by village headmen to send back a Christian teacher to continue teaching them about Christ. 20 He was also instrumental in establishing and gaining accreditation for a School of Nursing (run by Ian Cameron) at Atoifi from which the first nurses graduated in 1976.21
Family and Death
Three children were born to Len and Betty – Kelvin Andrew, Colin Lens and Sherilyn Joy. Betty continued working at the hospital as the chief midwife and anaesthetic nurse for operations whilst caring for her children and, later, conducting home-schooling. She also hospitably catered for the many visitors, official and otherwise, and volunteers who spent time at Atoifi.22
Two weeks after his 38th birthday, on August 15, 1979, Len was killed instantly when the tractor he was driving, towing a load of bags of cement up a steep hill to the power house, lost power and ran backwards, overturning and crushing him. He was buried on a hill overlooking the hospital the next day.23 Betty returned to live near family in Nambour, Queensland, raising the children alone. She provided day-care for children in her home so she could earn a living without depriving her children of her care.24
She remained very supportive of Atoifi Hospital, returning there three times, including for the opening of the Lens Larwood Memorial Church on April 13, 1985.25 Betty died March 9, 2014 while at a fund-raising activity she had organised at Nambour SDA Church.26
The legacy of Len and Betty Larwood is not only seen in the physical plant of Atoifi mission station, but in more intangible areas. He was highly respected as a counsellor, mediator and muse by a wide range of people from Kwaio bushmen to American millionaires. He received the visits of these people as well as anthropologists, government administrators, British governors, church leaders, and highly qualified medical specialists with equal attention and kindness, modelling to all the high standards that Seventh-day Adventist medical missionary work brings into the lives of those it touches.27
“A moving ceremony . . .” Australasian Record, June 22, 1985.
“Atoifi is a . . .” Australasian Record, vol. 83, no. 23, June 3, 1978.
Banks, J. “Lens George Larwood obituary.” Australasian Record, November 5, 1979.
Betty Jean Larwood Personal Service Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Betty Jean.” Document: “Personal Service Record.”
Betty Jean Larwood Sustentation Fund Application. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Betty Jean.” Document: “Sustentation Fund Application.”
Betty Jean Larwood Worker’s Biographical Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Betty Jean.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”
Department of Communication, WPUM, “Tragic Accident at Atoifi Hospital.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1979.
Department of Communication, WPUM, “Life-sketch of Lens George Larwood. . . .A Servant of God and a Friend to Man." Australasian Record, October 29, 1979, 1.
“Events at Atoifi Involving the Tragic Accidental Death of Brother Len Larwood.” Pacemaker. September 5, 1979.
Hay, Helen J. “Thank You, Len.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1979.
Hay, Helen. “Send the Light? It’s Here!” Australasian Record, May 27, 1974.
Howse, T. and E. “Samoa.” Australasian Record, July 2, 1917.
Larwood, L. “House Wanted.” Australasian Record, December 10, 1973.
Larwood, Len G. “Atoifi Air Strip.” Australasian Record, March 1, 1976.
Larwood, Len G. “Mission Extension Offering Exceeds $25,000.” Australasian Record, October 8, 1973.
Lee, Gordon A. “A Magnificent Response to an Appeal for a Special Need Brings . . . Books and More Books.” Australasian Record, September 12, 1977.
“Lens G. Larwood, missionary, nurse . . . “Australasian Record, February 18, 1980.
Lens George Larwood Worker’s Biographical Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Lens George.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”
“Life Sketch of Betty Jean Larwood.” Funeral Program Sheet. Unpublished. 2014.
Low, Ken R. “Larwood – Tinworth.” Australasian Record, April 18, 1966.
Millist, W. “Official Opening and Dedication of New Atoifi Church.” Australasian Record, July 13, 1985.
“Mrs Betty Larwood, whose husband . . .” Australasian Record, November 12, 1979.
Newman, C. “Atoifi, A Pearl With a Price.” Australasian Record, July 28, 1969.
“Now a final note on Atoifi . . . “Australasian Record, June 3, 1978.
Posala, Dr. Haynes S. “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!” Australasian Record, April 29, 1974.
Powrie, R. H. “So This is Malaita!” Australasian Record, February 17, 1969.
Smith, Gordon M. “A Dream Fulfilled – By the Hand of Another.” Australasian Record, August 31, 1985.
“State Scholarship Examination.” Queensland State Archives. No date. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/SeriesDetails.aspx?SeriesId=4022
“Stop Press. Atoifi Hospital is in mourning . . .” Australasian Record, September 10, 1979.
Timmins, Jeanette. “Len Larwood – Tributes From His Colleagues.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1979.
Tinworth, David. “Instant Missionary: ‘Special’ People.” Australasian Record, December 1, 1975.
“Thanks to the magic of modern travel. . .” Australasian Record, February 23, 1976.
“Tragic Accident At Atoifi Hospital.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1979.
Wackerling, W. “A Nursing Sister Tells of . . . Life at Atoifi.” Australasian Record, May 29, 1978.
Webb, Joe. “Betty Jean Larwood obituary.” Australasian Record, December 6, 2014.
White, H. C. “George Larwood obituary.” Australasian Record, August 13, 1929.
H. C. White, “George Larwood obituary,” Australasian Record, August 13, 1929, 7.↩
T. and E. Howse, “Samoa,” Australasian Record, July 2, 1917, 3.↩
Department of Communication, Western Pacific Union Mission (WPUM), “Life-sketch of Lens George Larwood. . . A Servant of God and a Friend to Man," Australasian Record, October 29, 1979, 1, 18.↩
Lens George Larwood Worker’s Biographical Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Lens George.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”↩
Kelvin Larwood, email to author, September 25, 2016.↩
“Life Sketch of Betty Jean Larwood,” Funeral Program Sheet. Unpublished, 2014, held in the personal collections of the author and Kelvin A. Larwood.”↩
Betty Jean Larwood Worker’s Biographical Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Larwood, Betty Jean.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”↩
“On completion . . .” Australasian Record, February 14, 1966, 16.↩
Ken R. Low, “Larwood – Tinworth,” Australasian Record, April 18, 1966, 7.↩
Department of Communication, WPUM, “Life-sketch of Lens George Larwood. . . . A Servant of God and a Friend to Man." Australasian Record, October 29, 1979, 1, 18.↩
W. Wackerling. “A Nursing Sister Tells of . . . Life at Atoifi,” Australasian Record, May 29, 1978, 11.↩
“Life-Sketch of Lens George Larwood.”↩
Ibid.; See also W. Millist, “Official Opening and Dedication of New Atoifi Church,” Australasian Record, July 13, 1985, 13.↩
Len G. Larwood, “Mission Extension Offering Exceeds $25,000,” Australasian Record, October 8, 1973, 8; See also “Life-Sketch of Lens George Larwood.”↩
“Life-Sketch of Lens George Larwood;” Haynes S. Posala, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!” Australasian Record, April 29, 1974, 1.↩
“Thanks to the magic of modern travel. . . Australasian Record, February 23 1976, 16.↩
Len G. Larwood, “Atoifi Air Strip,” Australasian Record, March 1, 1976, 9.↩
R. H. Powrie, “So this is Malaita!” Australasian Record, February 17, 1969, 10-11.↩
“Atoifi is a . . .” Australasian Record, June 3, 1978, 16.↩
“Tragic Accident At Atoifi Hospital.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1979, 1.↩
“Life Sketch of Betty Jean Larwood,” op cit.↩
“Life-Sketch of Lens George Larwood.” See also Millist, 13.↩