Brock Chisholm : biography
George Brock Chisholm, CC, MC & Bar (18 May 1896 – 4 February 1971) was a Canadian First World War veteran, medical practitioner, and the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). He was a strong advocate of religious tolerance and often commented that man's worst enemy was not disease, which he felt was curable as long as men worked together, but man himself.
Chisholm was born in Oakville, Ontario, to a family with deep ties to the region. Under Sir Isaac Brock, after whom Chisholm was named, his great-grandfather fought against the Americans during the War of 1812. His great-grandfather's brother was also Oakville's founder.
As an 18-year-old at the start of the First World War, Chisholm joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving in the 15th Battalion, CEF as a cook, sniper, machine gunner and scout. His leadership and heroism were twice rewarded: with a Military Cross for his efforts in a battle outside of Lens, France; and the Bar. He rose to the rank of captain, was injured once and returned home in 1917.
After the war, Chisholm pursued his lifelong passion of medicine, earning his M.D. from the University of Toronto by 1924 before interning in England, where he specialized in psychiatry. After six years in general practice in his native Oakville, he attended Yale University where he specialized in the mental health of children. During this time, Chisholm developed his strong view that children should be raised in an "as intellectually free environment" as possible, independent of the prejudices and biases – political, moral and religious – of their parents.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Chisholm rapidly rose in stature within the Canadian military and government. He joined the war effort as a psychiatrist dealing with psychological aspects of soldier training, before rising to the rank of Director General of the Medical Services, the highest position within the medical ranks of the Canadian Army. He was the first psychiatrist to head the medical ranks of any army in the world. In 1944, the Canadian Government created the position of Deputy Minister of Health. Chisholm was first the person to occupy the post and held it until 1946.
That same year, Chisholm took his views to the international scene, becoming the Executive Secretary of the Interim Commission of the World Health Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland. He was one of 16 international experts consulted in drafting the agency's first constitution. The WHO became a permanent UN fixture in April 1948, and Chisholm became the agency's first Director-General on a 46–2 vote. Chisholm was now in the unique position of being able to brings his views on the importance of international mental and physical health to the world. Refusing re-election, he occupied the post until 1953, during which time the WHO dealt successfully with a cholera epidemic in Egypt, malaria outbreaks in Greece and Sardinia, and introduced shortwave epidemic-warning services for ships at sea.
Chisholm was a controversial public speaker who nevertheless had great conviction, and drew much cynicism within the Canadian public for comments in the mid-1940s that children should not be encouraged to believe in Santa Claus. Calls for his resignation as Deputy Minister of Health were quelled by his appointment as Executive Secretary of the WHO, but his public perception as "Canada's most famously articulate angry man" lingered.
While Chisholm was Director of the UN from 1948–53, he was quoted as saying "To achieve world government, it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism, loyalty to family traditions, national patriotism, and religious dogmas."
Chisholm was an Honorary President of the World Federalists of Canada, President of the World Federation of Mental Health (1957–1958) and an Honorary Fellow of a number of prestigious medical associations. In 1959, the American Humanist Association named him Humanist of the Year. He received numerous honorary degrees, and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967.
Chisholm married Grace McLean Ryrie on 21 June 1924, and had two children, Catherine Anne and Brock Ryrie. He died on 4 February 1971, in Veterans' Hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, after a series of strokes. He was a Unitarian.
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