Gordon Graham Layton, a former British Army officer and a builder by profession, initially joined Burma Shell in 1942. Following Partition in 1947, Layton was posted to Karachi; however, he did not feel suited to a desk job, and soon thereafter decided to join fellow Englishman Mr. McDonald as a partner in his boat building business, at West Wharf Yard in Karachi. Alongside the boat building and furniture business, Layton soon expanded the business into house building and construction under the banner of McDonald, Layton & Company (MLC).
In the 1950s, Mr. Ismael Bhaimia, a close friend of Layton’s, acquired Mr. McDonald’s interest in the business, and with Layton and Bhaimia’s combined efforts, MLC soon became one of the largest construction companies in Pakistan. When Bhaimia passed away in 1977, his brother Yousef Bhaimia took his place, extending operations into the Middle East. With Layton’s blessings, he also inducted close common friends Mr. Zaka Rahmatulla, the recently retired Chief Executive of Wazir Ali Industries, and Khawaja Zafar Hassan, recently retired Chairman and Chief Executive of Pakistan Tobacco, onto the Board of MLC. The four of them became good friends. At the time, I was working as Finance Director at MLC, which is how my acquaintance with Layton & Co began.
In 1982, Layton decided to retire from Pakistan, disinvesting his shares in MLC and returning to the UK. He soon realized, however, that most of his friends were now in Pakistan, and that that was where he belonged. Around the same time, Layton discovered that the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (RCSB), known as Sight Savers, had withdrawn from Pakistan on account of the dishonesty of their local partners. He contacted them offering his services and financial support in organizing reliable partners in Pakistan. On the basis of their commitment to provide a matching grant for prevention and eradication of blindness in Pakistan, Layton returned to Karachi and asked his friend Mr. Zaka Rahmatulla to join him as a partner to set up a trust for the eradication of blindness and uplift of the underserved. Mr. Rahmatulla was delighted with this proposition. Layton spoke Urdu and was the first British national to take up Pakistani citizenship to dedicate his life to serving the poor and underprivileged people of his adopted country.
On 13th December, 1984, Layton and Rahmatulla sponsored and established the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust (LRBT) and invited 13 of their friends and associates to join them in their endeavors as Founder Trustees in their mission to serve the poor so that “No man, woman, or child should go blind simply because they cannot afford the treatment.” The LRBT started its operations in November 1985 through a mobile hospital unit which was stationed at Tando Bago, a small town in lower Sindh. This mobile unit was soon converted into a purpose built hospital with the assistance of ENI, a petroleum company operating in that area.
There was a major breakthrough in early 1985, when our Founder Trustee Admiral Ahsan succeeded in acquiring two acres of land from the government for the construction of the first LRBT Hospital in Korangi. Under the personal supervision of Graham Layton, a modern hospital was planned and constructed in record time. The Korangi Hospital was fully operational by the end of 1986. It is now one of the best tertiary eye care hospitals in Pakistan. This hospital was inaugurated by Princess Alexandra, Chairperson of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (RCSB), in October 1987.
Zaka Rahmatulla soon thereafter acquired an existing hospital in Lahore in an extremely dilapidated condition, with a free hand to convert it into a modern facility for the LRBT. With the help of his family members, mainly his two nephews, Justice (Retd) Aamir Raza Khan and Ahsan Raza (FCA), and his friend and relative Professor Najib Khan, a retired principal of a medical college, Rahmatulla embarked upon the renovation and upgrading of this facility in 1987. He succeeded in establishing a tertiary care hospital in Lahore, which is now recognized as a state-of-the-art institution in Pakistan. Zaka Rahmatulla passed away on 17th August, 1989, but to this date, the family is proudly running this facility as his legacy.
After completion of the Korangi hospital, Layton turned to expanding and extending the eye care facilities to all four provinces of Pakistan. He kept himself busy starting one hospital after another, all over Pakistan, and consolidating the organization.
As a first step, Layton established the Graham Layton Trust in the UK for the endowment of a major part of his estate and for mobilization of tax exempt donations in the UK and abroad for the benefit of the LRBT. Over the years, this Trust in the UK has mobilized large sums of money from the British ex-pat community and Pakistanis, supporting the Pakistan operations. We tip our hats to the UK Committee for its splendid support right from the start.
For fund raising within Pakistan, a group was formed called the “Friends of LRBT”, headed by Farrokh Captain and Mariana Karim. They organized successful fundraising events in Pakistan, the Middle East and the US. A separate Endowment Fund was set up to strengthen the financial position of the Trust and all records were computerized.
By 1994, within ten years, 7 hospitals had been setup in Pakistan and 2 million patients were being treated free of charge. In recognition of his services to the people of Pakistan, Gordon Graham Layton was awarded the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam by the President of Pakistan. In addition, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the title of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in January 1995 to honor his services. My wife and I hosted a dinner in his honor on 17th January, 1995 at the Karachi Boat Club, which was attended by the Governor of Sindh, Mr. Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, as Chief Guest.
Graham Layton passed away in 1999. Despite being confined to a wheel chair during the last stages of his life, Layton continued working till his last day. Following Layton’s death, Khawaja Zafar Hassan was elected Chairman. He followed his mentors and friends Graham Layton and Zaka Rahmatulla, and dedicated himself to their mission with a pioneering spirit. He made an outstanding contribution in extending services all over Pakistan.
After serving for 30 years, Khawaja Zafar Hassan stepped down from the Chairman’s position for health reasons. Najmus Saquib Hameed took his place as Chairman. Over the last 15 years, Hameed has made an outstanding contribution in making improvements in all departments of LRBT. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to LRBT, Khawaja Zafar Hassan was conferred the title of Chairman Emeritus by the Board of Trustees.
Starting from a humble mobile unit in 1985, the LRBT has since grown to a network of 76 facilities: 19 purpose-built hospitals and 57 clinics. This network covers 78% of Pakistanis within a bus ride of a maximum of three hours. In the last 35 years, 46 million patients have been treated and 4.6 million surgeries have been performed absolutely free for the poor. The incidence of blindness in Pakistan has been reduced to half. The LRBT has received commendation and awards for its outstanding performance from leading organizations in Pakistan and abroad. And the mission continues, upholding the wishes of Layton and Rahmatulla.