Gates was known as a person who led a life of unconditional love and devotion to the welfare and health of people from the margins of society. She worked at the WCC from 1970-73 as secretary for Publications of the Christian Medical Commission. She also served as founding editor of Contact magazine. As a 22-year-old, Gates witnessed and contributed to crucial and historic days of the genesis of the Christian Medical Commission.
“Connie Gates was a caregiver who was utterly dedicated to the most vulnerable members of our human family,” said Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC interim general secretary. “We mourn her death, and we celebrate her life and legacy—a legacy that shines in the thousands of people she taught and touched.”
“Ms Connie Gates's experience at the World Council of Churches ignited her passion for public health as a young person—and she carried the flame of transformative diaconal service all her life,” said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary. "Connie lived a self-sacrificial and inspiring life, entirely devoting her energy for public health and training in the churches' context—following the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
After working in Hong Kong and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she completed her master's degree in public health from the University of North Carolina in 1978. Following 14 years of work with migrant farmworkers in North Carolina, Gates worked with the health ministries of the United Methodist Church and the National Council of the Churches in the USA.
In 1997, Gates followed up the inspiration she received from the work of Mabelle Arole and Raj Arole (both doctors who were members of the Christian Medical Commission) in 1971 – as the founders of the Jamkhed Comprehensive Primary Health Care Project, which played a crucial role in inspiring the Alma Ata Declaration and the primary health care movement.
For the following 24 years until her death, Gates served voluntarily as the international training coordinator of the Jamkhed Comprehensive Primary Health Care Project, for six months each year.
Rev. Dr Shobha Arole, current co-director of Jamkhed Comprehensive Primary Health Care Project, said: “Connie worked tirelessly with trainees from around the world who had come to Jamkhed to learn. She facilitated and coordinated training programs for students, as well as supported groups coming there to learn about community-based primary health care.”
During her time supporting Jamkhed Comprehensive Primary Health Care Project, the program received 45,000 trainees – 42,000 from India and 3,000 from more than 100 countries around the world.
“A humble and devoted friend to all, Connie took the vision of primary health care, and community engagement from the people in the grassroots—to all the different levels—bottom up. Her life and legacy will always remain with us,” Arole added.
Though Gates left the WCC in the 1970s, she continued to have great interest in the WCC’s work and programmes. “Whenever we met, she wanted to be updated about things going on in the ecumenical family, and was always encouraging and supportive,” said Dr Mwai Makoka, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing.
Gates was a founding member of Christian Connections for International Health (1988), and a founding member of the Working Group on Community-based Primary Health Care of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association (1993). In 2018, she received the Gordon-Wyon Award for Excellence in Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology and Practice of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association. She was also named by Christian Connections for International Health as the Christian International Health Champion for 2020.