Decorated soldier and global health pioneer linked to the World Health Organization honoured
A decorated soldier and Canadian Major-General, psychiatrist, and world health pioneer instrumental in the creation of the World Health Organization (WHO), the late G. Brock Chisholm, MD was honoured by the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
Colonel Jim Kile, Director of Medical Policy at Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Health Services Headquarters, attended the May 2, 2019 ceremony in Montreal, QC as a member of the History and Heritage Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the group responsible for nominating Dr. Chisholm. He was joined by Dr. Chisholm’s granddaughters Elizabeth Burden (Oakville, ON) and Caroline Mentha (Victoria, BC), who accepted the award on behalf of the Chisholm family.
The late G. Brock Chisholm, CC CBE MD MC & Bar ED (Toronto, ON) was worthy of recognition. His biography on the CMHF site reads in full:
Dr. Chisholm, who began his medical career as a physician in private practice, effectively became “Doctor to the World,” with a practice embracing 3 billion people, helping build the cooperative international institutions that sustain the world today.
Born in Oakville, Ontario in 1896, Dr. Chisholm enlisted as a soldier in 1915, serving in France where he was twice wounded and decorated for heroism. He later earned his MD from the University of Toronto in 1924, interned in England specializing in psychiatry, and continued his studies in children’s mental health at Yale, where he embraced the impact of the social determinants of health. Establishing Toronto’s first private psychiatric practice in the height of the Depression, Dr. Chisholm would accept ‘payment in kind’ from his patients who could not pay in cash.
During the Second World War, he served as Director General of Medical Services, the Canadian Army’s highest ranking medical position, and in 1944, was named first Canadian Deputy Minister of Health. In 1946, Dr. Chisholm declared in a WHO planning meeting that health should be defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This enlightened summary is now enshrined in the WHO’s constitution.
Dr. Chisholm’s career was not without controversy. He was a fiercely independent thinker with strong views on children’s education and social justice, and he was sometimes accused, at a time when such accusations were common, of communist sympathies for his passionate internationalism and his advocacy of secular scientific reason. He was a profound critic of the dangers of nuclear war, and one of the first to warn about industrial pollution and uncontrolled population growth.
Dr. Chisholm had seen war firsthand, as a soldier in the First World War, and as a medical administrator in the Second. He knew the devastation and cruelty of war as both a common soldier and a high-ranking officer. He held considerable power from 1945 to 1953, and he used that power to promote one of the most durable and positive international organizations the world has ever known. He believed in the possibility of enlightened international cooperation, and he helped to achieve it for all of us.
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