A MONMOUTHSHIRE doctor who pioneered affordable medical equipment in Africa and was given an OBE by the Queen has been described by friends as a "courteous, whimsical and very loveable man", after he died of cancer earlier this year.

Born in 1936, Alexander 'Sandy' Holt-Wilson, who in later years became a turkey farmer near Raglan, read medicine at Cambridge in the 1950s and trained at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London before travelling to Rhodesia, where he spent a year as a surgeon and physician, and visiting friends in Ethiopia.

He worked variously in London and Kuwait, which he was a consultant ophthalmic surgeon to the ministry of health, and in the late 1970s at Abergavenny's Nevill Hall Hospital and in Newport for the Gwent Area Health Authority.

It was then that the family - completed by wife Caroline, and children Nell, Kate and Tom - moved to Cefn Maen farm which went on to produce turkeys for thousands of Christmas dinners in Gwent over recent years.

Upon retirement in 1999, Dr Holt-Wilson's interest in Ethiopia reignited, having been fascinated by the story of Prince Alemayehu who was educated at the same English prep school where Dr Holt-Wilson's grandfather had been headmaster.

In 2000 he was introduced to the Tropical Health and Education Trust, a charity which twins British hospitals with ones overseas, and shortly after visited the Gondar Hospital eye department in Ethiopia.

The following year he returned to run it and saw how much help was needed, with three eye doctors for six million people in the Gondar region alone and around 20,000 blind from cataracts.

Dr Holt-Wilson promoted training for nurses with the help of charities and coordinated the construction of a new eye department at Gondar University Hospital. On his final visit to Ethiopia in October last year, he learned 60,000 cataracts had been removed by the newly trained nurse surgeons.

During his time in Gondar, Dr Holt-Wilson learned that there were only two ophthalmoscopes for 10 million people and with the help of the Fred Hollows Foundation, helped to develop a much cheaper one with inventor William Williams. The pair devised a piece of equipment costing £10 which could diagnose cataracts and trachoma.

In November last year he was awarded an OBE by the Queen for his services to work in Ethiopia.

Recently, Dr Holt-Wilson, who had prostate cancer, was supported by his family both in hospital and at St Anne's Hospice, and was described at his funeral service by the Right Reverend Robert Hardy CBE, former Bishop of Lincoln and a family friend, as persistent, patient and charismatic whose courtesy was easy and natural.

"Overcoming darkness was at the heart of Sandy's work, taking people out of their darkness and putting them into the light," he said.

Dr Holt-Wilson died on May 7 this year.