Lives of the fellows

Pierre-marie Dorolle

b.14 November 1899 d.13 November 1980
MD Bordeaux(1924) Hon MD Geneva(1969) FRCP*(1970)†

Pierre-Marie Dorolle was born at Wassy, Haute Marne, France, the son of Maurice Leopold Dorolle, a professor of logic and philosophy, and his wife Marie Luce, daughter of Elphége Lefèvre, a barrister. He first intended to read science at the University of Marseilles, but his studies were interrupted by the first world war, during which he served as a health worker.

At the end of the war he decided to take up a medical career and studied first at the University of Paris, and then at the École du Service de Santé de la Marine at Bordeaux. On qualifying in 1924 with the degree of Doctor of Medicine, and the distinction of Lauréat de la Faculté, he spent a year working in hospitals in Marseilles and then joined the French Marines. He was sent to French Indo-China and served there as specialist in public health and administrator until 1950.

During these 26 years of his colonial service Pierre Dorolle held a number of important posts. He was director of health services of the city of Hanoï, chief medical officer of the Saigon-Cholon area, lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of Saigon, director of health of Annam, and then director of public health at the French High Commission. In the last mentioned capacity, Dorolle took part, after the second world war, in the negotiations for the transfer of power between France, Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. This in turn led to his accompanying, as adviser, the delegations from the three last-mentioned countries to the Third World Health Assembly, which admitted these countries to the membership of the World Health Organization.

Before joining in 1950 the staff of the World Health Organization, Dorolle participated in many international activities: he took part in the deliberations of the Consultative Committee of the Eastern Bureau of the League of Nations’ Health Organization; he was rapporteur of the Inter-Governmental Conference on Rural Hygiene, organized by the League in Bandung in 1937; he was appointed chief technical expert and representative of the secretary-general of the League for technical collaboration with China from 1937 to 1940, and he took part in the allied meeting on nutrition in Singapore in 1947 and in the FAO rice meetings in Rangoon, Baguio and Bangkok from 1948 to 1950.

As deputy director general of the WHO, Dorolle served with three directors-general and was closely associated with their work: Brock Chisholm, MG Candau and H Mahler. He witnessed the growth of the Organization from 71 members to 138, took part in numerous meetings of regional committees, assisted the presidents of twenty-three World Health assemblies, and an equal number of chairmen of the executive board, represented WHO and the director-general at a great variety of intergovernmental and nongovernmental meetings, and lectured at numerous universities and other institutions.

He retired from the World Health Organization in 1973 but continued to live in Geneva. He was married twice; there is one daughter of each marriage.

Pierre Dorolle was doctor honoris causa of the University of Geneva, laureate of the National Academy of Medicine in Paris, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (England), honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Health of Great Britain, and member of the Société de Pathologie Exotique of Paris, as well as of numerous other learned societies.

In assessing Pierre Dorolle’s service to his own country and to the World Health Organization it would be difficult to improve on an obituary written by Sir George Godber, one of Dorolle’s former colleagues and friends: ‘for 23 years he was an important influence on World Health assemblies and the executive board; always unobtrusive, courteous, and scrupulously fair, never intruding his own opinions, but always alert and attentive at innumerable long meetings. His knack for producing a helpful turn of phrase in a draft took international bodies round many awkward corners.

No one ever saw him display impatience, much less irritation, and his ability to speak French and English was invaluable in removing inconsistencies between texts - which always seemed to emerge at inconvenient moments. Dorolle knew the constitution and procedure in minute detail and seemed to be able to find the way through any bureaucratic obstacle, something that was invaluable when the representatives of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom finally managed to get a resolution on family planning through the WHO executive board.

But Pierre was not just a skilful international bureaucrat: he felt deeply the importance of international health work, he could give an address of commanding erudition at any function in the French or English speaking worlds, using a text of his own devising and not merely a speech drafted for him. He was trusted implicitly by delegates and experts of every nation at WHO. No one doubted his impartiality or integrity. His field experience was mainly in less developed countries, but he was no less at home with the technical experts.

The WHO family of nations has every reason to be grateful to this physically slight and unassuming man for his long service at the highest level. A World Health Organization that is universally accepted and admired is a monument to Pierre Dorolle as much as to anyone, and it was his special virtue that he did not know that. Most men are less modest’.

Dorolle’s last public function was at the commemoration in Marseilles on 3rd October 1980 of the 75th anniversary of the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the French Armed Services, where Pierre Dorolle — a former student — was one of the honoured guests.

A great specialist of tropical public health, a brilliant international civil servant, a generous host, a faithful friend, a refined and distinguished Frenchman with an admiration for British culture, Pierre Dorolle’s memory will be cherished by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

LJ Bruce-Chwatt

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.." † The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 281, 1645; 1981, 282, 79; Lancet, 1980, 2, 8205]

(Volume VII, page 158)

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