Two Billions Call Him Doctor
Dr. Brock Chisholm once shocked a nation by saying there was no Santa Claus; now he needles a whole world into checking disease at its source
SINCE he first hung out his shingle in his home town of Oakville, Ont., 25 years ago, Dr. Brock Chisholm has seen his practice widen at a rate most small-town doctors would find alarming. In recent years he has successively become doctor to the Canadian Army, physician-in-chief to the Canadian people, and M.O.H. to all mankind. He has exchanged his little black bag for a brief case, swapped his bedside manner for the diplomatic touch and abandoned the G.P.’s traditional battered sedan in favor of the globe-girdling airliner.
But two things he has never forsaken: his
conviction that man’s troubles are more emotional than physical, and an uncanny knack for getting into hot water over this belief.
Last fall the Canadian-born director-general of the World Health Organization (a United Nations agency) declared that seven ounces of high-powered germs would, if properly distributed, kill everyone on earth. The subsequent shockwave of headlines and military denials swept three times around the earth, yet Chisholm had simply used the alleged horrors of biological warfare to point up his long-held contention that if people don’t grow up in time to avoid another war there may be no people left.
He was only trying to say the same thing in Ottawa, a few years ago, when he chastised parents for letting their children believe in Santa Claus. This and a U. S. speech in which he declared that wars are caused by
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Two Billions Call Him Doctor
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morality—society’s rigid concept of right and wrong—brought loud demands for his dismissal from the post he then held as Canada’s deputy minister of health.
Before that again, while director of Army Medical Services, Major-General Chisholm declared that mothers were interfering with the Army’s attempts to turn their sons into soldiers, causing a fuss which wasn’t settled until the Minister of Defense had paid a warm tribute to motherhood in Parliament. And this in turn was motivated by the same beliefs which had earlier prompted him to invite friends and patients to his Oakville home to discuss religion, marriage, sex and children —goings on which inspired a local parson to warn darkly against people meddling in realms of which they knew
In spite of his facility for becoming the centre of controversy George Brock Chisholm is highly regarded in such varied but highly proper fields as psychiatry, soldiering and diplomacy. He was the first psychiatrist ever to head the medical services of any army. He has been signally honored in the United States where he won the Lasker Award for outstanding contributions to veterans’ rehabilitation and where he delivered the William Alanson White memorial lecture on the psychiatry of enduring peace. He was the only serious contender for the world’s top health job when WHO was organized, and he was elected-46-2 by the participating nations.
The director of a big New York medical foundation describes him as “a true citizen of the world”; and Dr. Clarence Hincks, director of Canada’s National Committee for Mental Hygiene, and a frank Chisholm worshipper from away back, discards all adjectives as inadequate except “genius.”
Yet one leading Canadian psychologist calls much of Chisholm’s preachings nonsense; while an admirer of health department days in Ottawa came to the regretful opinion of the man as a humorless zealot who believes children should be taught to question everything except the teachings of Dr. Brock Chisholm. If so, this hasn’t prevented daughter Anne Chisholm, a charming and popular co-ed now in first year at McGill University, from remaining true to parental training and refusing to accept either her father’s or anyone else’s teachings as the last word in human wisdom.
He Dubbed The Bomb Obsolete
There are many contradictions within Chisholm himself.
He hails from one of those fine old Canadian families whose sons invariably become the colonel of the regiment (in this case the Lome Scots); but instead of landed gentry his own father was a coal dealer.
George Brock is an old soldier himself, having risen from private to captain in three fighting years in World War I and remained a faithful militia man between wars; but General Chisholm today believes that armies are useless.
A military stickler he insisted that medical officers at GHQ wear their flat hats flat, not rakish; yet he once plotted with a junior officer to sell a new idea to a brass hat while the brass hat was in a cocktail glow.
He was shocked to his professional core when one of his WHO aides appealed dramatically to New York’s
Mayor O’Dwyer to release from city hospitals 3,000 hypodermic needles required to fight cholera in Egypt— needles which could have been secured from commercial sources but without making front-page news. Then the director himself shook WHO’s public relations men when he innocently dropped his germ warfare bomb and told the world’s warriors their atom bombs were obsolete.
And, while he is still probably best known for “attacking” Santa Claus, he had never failed to hang up his own stocking in the family row until Christmas 1948, which they spent in a hotel suite. (Sixteen-year-old son Sandy was away skiing and, besides, there was no chimney.)
The Dr. Brock Chisholm who breathes scientific hell-fire and brimstone proves in person to have all the ferocity of a well-mannered mouse. His appearance represents the ultimate in professional sobriety. His five-footseven, 160-pound figure he clothes in neat, dark business suits. His voice, answering a telephone, always sounds as if its owner feels sure you must really want someone else. Yet once convinced he becomes instantly friendly, talks quickly, easily and sincerely. He can sit and chat for two hours without resorting to doodling, fidgeting or any other mannerism except for a quick smile which he manages mostly with his eyes. Even these are a bland blue and his mustache is so unobtrusively neat that he must trim it with some kind of precision instrument.
Iron Lungs by Air to India
Pumping away at the portable organ which the Chisholms have carted halfway round the world with them, surrounded by an international assortment of close harmonizers from WHO, the doctor’s sense of fun and games comes through. This often inspires him to organize a mouth organ band, equipping the impromptu musicians from his private stock of some 20 big and little harmonicas.
Adjusting his thirst to the “occasion he is noted both for nursing a single drink all evening while seeming to be the life of the party, and for downing an apparently endless succession of highballs without betraying more than an even kindlier-than-usual attitude toward his fellow man.
A friend has described him as “one of those rare people, a man who seems to be completely at home with himself.” Perhaps it is this quality that inspires in associates a quietly confident feeling that all obstacles to progress must in time give way before the reasoning attack of a mature mind. Whatever his secret, he has built up an amazing loyalty among those who have worked with him wherever he has
Chisholm directs the World Health Organization from an airy, walnutpaneled office in the Palais des Nations, old home of the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The long-empty filing cabinets which line the walls are quickly filling with progress reports on WHO’s constantly expanding global activities.
Now supported by 62 of the United Nations, Chisholm’s WHO, in its less than four years of activity, has: Killed a cholera epidemic in Egypt. Almost wiped out malaria in Greece and Sardinia, in large sections of which the disease once struck 80e/,, of the people annually. Ringed the world with a daily, short-wave epidemic-warning service, so ships at sea and port quarantine officials may know instantly when smallpox, cholera and plague break out anywhere on earth. Dis-
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patched TB X-ray crews to China; air-shipped iron lungs to India; trained native nurses for Ethiopia; sent American doctors to study VD control methods in Europe. Launched two longterm projects to standardize names, descriptions and strengths of all drugs throughout the world.
Chisholm’s medical and sanitation squad numbers fewer than 400, and has little more than $8 millions a year with which to pursue its ambitious goal of good health for all the world’s 2,350,866,000 people.
Thus it was Egypt’s own alert public health workers who stopped the cholera in its tracks; but without WHO’s speedy rounding up of 6 million cubic centimetres of anticholera vaccine from 13 countries the cholera might have ravaged the Mediterranean. It was Greek pilots who air-sprayed 700,000 marshy acres with DDT to wipe out malaria-bearing mosquitoes, but it was WHO that found the planes and showed them how. The League of Nations launched theepidemic-warning service but WHO has so stepped it up that airlines as well as ships are now detoured by disease-ridden territory.
So, by acting as global consultants and co-ordinators and as a clearing house for medical knowledge, WHO’s roving emissaries spread their numbers and their dollars around the earth in a way to multiply the net results a thousand times.
From his swivel chair in the big office overlooking Lake Geneva Chisholm commands this multifronted war against disease. Citing Napoleon’s rule of “having no more than six men reporting to him,” he lets his key staffers deal with WHO’s member nations in routine matters while he directs the staffers. Even these comprise an international caucus, with a Scot, a Swiss, an Englishman and a Norwegian in his high command.
Chisholm is paid $18,000 a year tax free plus expenses of $6,500. He reaches his office at 8.30 sharp, has his in-basket cleared within 10 minutes. He delights his secretarial staff by never being late for appointments, never delaying action on a memo or document more than 15 minutes, never acting hurried or impatient—“yet he works faster than anyone we’ve ever seen.” He startles Genevans, who recall the dignity of League executives, by lunching in the employees’ cafeteria.
The Doctor Is a Diplomat
To the director’s desk from Germany comes a report of a new process for shipping insulin-yielding pancreas glands without refrigeration. From Palestine a trouble-flash tells how WHO’s $50,000 program to provide sanitary facilities in Arab refugee camps is being sabotaged by unappreciative nomads using newly built privies for firewood. A Greek doctor working for WHO in Addis Ababa reports that two young Ethiopians have qualified for medical training.
Chisholm calls his department heads into conference. The Geneva report will be dispatched to all insulin-short nations. A “privies-for-health” campaign will be launched in Arab refugee camps. Scholarship money from WHO’s funds will send the Ethiopian youths to medical school in Europe. And action on all these matters will be launched the same day.
It is in the periodic sessions of WHO’s 18-man executive board, elected from among the delegates of member states, that Brock Chisholm’s notable talents for diplomacy come into play. A World Health Assembly is held each year which all 62 delegations attend,
but it’s at the more frequent executive board meetings that the real hard work goes on. For these 18 men are supposed to confer not in the interests of their individual countries but as policy directors for a world-wide agency.
“All 18 come well briefed as to what their 18 nations want done,” says a man who has seen it happen, “but when this becomes evident Brock shrugs his shoulders, looks from man to man and says in that reasonable way of his, ‘Now gentlemen, after all—’ Immediately they all start acting like disin-
terested citizens of the world—then catch hell when they go home.” The director keeps a calendar on his desk which charts the time he spends roving his world medical beat. In half a year he put in just a month and a half in Geneva. In one recent five-week period he spent one week in Czechoslovakia, 10 days in Geneva, three in Rio de Janeiro, three in Sao Paulo, one in Bolivia, one week each in Peru and New York. Periodically he must also visit WHO’s regional offices in Alexandria, New Delhi and
Washington. Chisholm, now 53, seems to arrive back from each flying trip as fresh as he started.
Leaving his office at 5 or later Brock Chisholm drives home around Lake Geneva in the car he took over from Canada (he doesn’t use the limousine and chauffeur at his disposal) to the 100-year-old white stone house the Chisholms purchased last year, set on the steep slope of an abandoned vineyard overlooking the lake. Here he is greeted by his wife, the former Grace Ryrie (of the Toronto Birks-
Ellis-Ryrie Ryries) who, with the aid of a cook and a maid, is probably finishing preparations for a dinner party of up to 10 international visitors or a cocktail party for 100.
Entertaining is no small part of the director-general’s job and Grace Chisholm’s specialty is the old-fashioned Sunday evening buffet or pass-around supper, a Canadian institution which she has developed into a highly successful weapon of international diplomacy. She holds her buffets on weekdays (the Chisholms try to keep their week ends strictly for family relaxation) and finds that without extra help she can thus play hostess to 30 guests at a time. Dignified gentlemen who turn up in striped pants, burnooses or other formal regalia are amazed to be handed a plate and a fork and told to dig in.
“Do you know where I ate my supper?” exclaimed one European diplomat to a friend on WHO’s Geneva staff. “On the floor! And do you know who was sitting beside me? Mrs. Chisholm!”
A Charter for a Utopia
These happy icebreakers are never considered entirely successful until Brock Chisholm’s harmonium makes its appearance. This is a small pump organ which the Chisholms bought secondhand when the doctor was Toronto’s first practicing psychoanalyst.
“He’d come home from the office muttering that everybody he’d seen all day had broken down and cried,” recalls his wife, “then march straight to the nursery where we kept the harmonium and blast out with ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ ”
The organ played a central part in Chisholm’s activities in Ottawa, where an appreciative streetcar motorman once stopped his trolley outside the general’s Rockcliffe home to hear the Chisholm army glee club render “Yield Not to Temptation.”
Mrs. Chisholm enjoys the singsongs as much as anyone but always has to make certain her guests don’t depart still singing and leave her stuck with the organ in the middle of the living room floor. The Ottawa choristers were always more than co-operative about returning the organ to its upstairs hideaway, and as one of the first Geneva singsongs broke up Mrs. Chisholm asked three of her guests, “Would you gentlemen mind carrying the harmonium upstairs?”
The three diplomatic types hailed from three continents, were of three different complexions, and were clearly taken aback at the request. But they manfully put their well-tailored shoulders to the harmonium and tugged and hauled and sweated it up the stairs.
Whether presiding at a harmonium in Geneva or a conference in New Delhi Chisholm’s close attention is seldom far removed from the real goal of the World Health Organization—a goal that goes far beyond the physical problems of controlling man’s more obvious enemies, such as plague, cholera or malnutrition.
The WHO constitution has been hailed as revolutionary because it defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”; because it declares such a state of health to be one of the fundamental rights of every human being; and because it recognizes that “the health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security.”
The UN’s health agency might never have raised its sights so high had not the Canadian psychiatrist been invited as one of 16 internationally known
experts to draft the constitution, and had Canada not subsequently sent her then deputy minister of health as a delegate to the first International Health Conference in June 1946 in New York City, at which he helped hammer the health charter through to adoption.
“The rest of us were all talking about a text—he was talking about what it would mean to the world,” says Dr. Frank Boudreau, one of the American delegates.
In fact, from the Chisholm viewpoint, UN itself can be expected to do no more than fight a courageous delaying action until the aims of the world health charter can be achieved, until mankind is ready for peace. Says Chisholm, the only real enemy man has left on earth is man himself.
Brock Chisholm didn’t begin to learn this lesson until he was 18. Before that he was busy imbibing the qualities of responsibility and independence in the Chisholm family tradition. Greatgreat - grandfather had founded the town of Oakville, 20 miles west of Toronto on Lake Ontario; great-grandfather fought with General Brock at Queenston; while father Frank Chisholm bought a wig in his futile efforts to go active in 1914, and gave most of the fuel in his coalyard away to deserving townsmen.
Brock remembers being given a dime for a Sunday-school picnic as a youngster, but after that he was on his own. He and older brother Jim printed dodgers on a hand press, bottled and sold a crop of wild horse-radish. From 12 on Brock earned enough to buy his own clothes.
They Called Him Little Nemo
It was when he enlisted in 1915 and found himself putting the same drunken bunkmates to bed night after night that he began to get interested in why ! people act as they do. He bought books on human behavior but found little time for them once he got to France. Here General Brock’s namesake acquired a reputation for surviving the most hazardous forays. His snow-camouflage coveralls earned him the nickname of Little Nemo (it still clings) after a pyjamaed youngster in an early comic strip.
Upon discharge in 1919 Nemo and brother Jim refitted an abandoned schooner in which they spent a summer hauling coal 220 miles down Lake Ontario from Oswego, N.Y., for their father. They Tom Sawyered whitecollar friends into crewing the ship for fun, and by fall Brock had the down payment on a medical course at University of Toronto.
“I was extremely emotional all through Varsity,” psychiatrist Chisholm recalls. “It was the shock of all I experienced during the war, coming on top of a narrow Presbyterian upbringing. I didn’t get straightened out until later when I was psychoanalyzed as part of my studies in London.”
(“We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties,” Brock Chisholm has written, “fed us by our parents, our Sundayand day-school teachers, our politicians, our priests, our newspapers and others with a vested interest in controlling us.”)
To London with young Dr. Chisholm on borrowed money went his bride. He studied obstetrics and other traditional specialties by day, psychiatry by night. The Chisholms fondly recall how they splurged two shillings for their first wedding anniversary dinner in a Chinese restaurant and mistakenly ordered what proved to be two large bowls of steamed almonds. “My jaws still ache,” says Brock.
Six years of general practice in
Oakville convinced him that half his patients were really suffering from emotional problems. After two years of advanced psychiatric training he set up as a psychoanalyst in Toronto. Here established colleagues kidded him about his “new religion” when he talked about studying the whole man (today it’s recognized as psychosomatic medicine) and declared with Freud that man’s behavior is unconsciously influenced by the forgotten experiences of earliest childhood.
Chisholm did some fine work treating broken minds (he spent a month in a northern cabin helping one patient wrestle the devil Freudian style), but trying to restore all the broken minds in the world seemed to him a hopeless task for psychiatry.
“You can only cure retail, but you can prevent wholesale,” he decided.
It was in this mood he devised emotional stability tests for Army recruits, to avoid subjecting unstable minds to front-line strains. He put social workers in uniforms to handle domestic problems for fighting men on distant fronts and ease their worries.
Major-General Chisholm was appointed deputy minister of health in November 1944, his spark-plugging of a broad new federal program was almost lost in the storm which arose in the fall of 1945 over his William Alanson White memorial lecture in Washington (MORALITY CAUSE OF WARS: CHISHOLM . . .
CHURCHMEN INDIGNANTLY DISAGREE); and his later elaborations on the same theme before various Ottawa groups (BELIEVE IN SANTA—ULCERS AT 40).
“Brock couldn’t see that if he’d just stop repeating that speech for a while the fuss would die down and in the long run he might have accomplished a lot more,” says a colleague who sympathized with much of Chisholm’s
The Chisholms were met with fatu-
ous witticisms about Santa Claus at every social gathering, and on Christmas Day 1945 the doctor was called to the telephone by an infuriated parent whose disillusioned brood could be heard wailing loudly in the immediate background.
Demands for the deputy minister’s dismissal grew louder, particularly in Quebec, but in July 1946 Chisholm was elected to the top job in the new World Health Organization. Ottawa relaxed and Chisholm trained his sights on the health problems of men everywhere.
Compressed to its essentials the controversial Chisholm doctrine runs something like this: Man has always
managed to get himself into another war every 15 or 20 years and recently he has so improved his killing power that in the next war he may wipe himself out. Wars are the product of faulty human behavior and the way we behave stems from the way we have been brought up.
Chisholm denounces morality as the disastrous fault common to all societies and civilizations. Instead of bringing our children up according to our own preconceived rules of “good” and “bad” (despite which we have stumbled into two world wars in one generation) we must teach them to question everything, he says. Tell your child you believe in God, point out that some people don’t; let him enjoy a fanciful Santa Claus but don’t give him a literal belief in a chimney-climbing gnome or or you’ll subject him to inevitable disillusionment.
Give your child unquestioning love until he is four years old Chisholm advises, tell him the simple truth about everything, encourage him to think things out for himself, and you will set him upon the path to maturity. And not until we have enough mature persons to represent us in the United Nations—and enough more at home to back them up—can we hope to avoid self-annihilation. ★