Tom Dooley met his destiny in 1954 while serving as a young Navy Lieutenant assigned to caring for refugees in North Vietnam. From that experience his life took fire and was never to be the same again. Tom, who grew up in a comfortable suburb of St. Louis, was tormented by his new found realization that half the world goes to bed hungry every night, that half the world spends a lifetime without seeing a doctor – that half the world still suffers from the diseases of Biblical days.
The young physician was unable to ignore these realities of human existence. He was determined to bring to the other half of the world medical care, education and training for better health and a new quality of life. In 1958, he founded MEDICO, and in the three short years before his painful death from cancer in 1961, he established 17 medical programs in 14 countries. Tom Dooley captured the heart of America and became a legend in his own time.
In those few short years he became one of the world’s most admired men – honored by such notables as His Excellency the Pope, Albert Schweitzer, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, Dr. Charles Mayo and posthumously by a special medal authorized by the United States Congress.
Tom was a most uncommon man. Being a poor and undisciplined student in medical school – - his MD Degree from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, was temporarily deferred but conferred at a later date – - thanks to the efforts of the school’s dean. Tom subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned as an intern at the Camp Pendleton, California Navy Hospital. Tom was soon reassigned to the Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Japan. After an unusually brief tour he was transferred from shore to ship duty. With that the Dooley legend began.
The ship happened to be the USS Montague headed for Haiphong, North Vietnam, to aid in the evacuation of 800,000 refugees and civilians being forced to leave North Vietnam for South Vietnam in accordance with the terms of the 1954 Geneva Peace Treaty, ending the French Indochina War. Many of them were devout Catholics. North Vietnam was then an oppressive atheistic Communist state. In providing medical services to those refugees, Tom’s life was changed forever. At the age of 27, he found purpose and meaning to his life.
Tom Dooley died of cancer in January 1961, at the age of 34. He was buried in St. Louis and given a Military Funeral with a U.S. Navy Honor Guard.
“The world will know peace, but only your compassion will bring peace about. A sick baby there threatens the health of your baby here. An angry man there threatens your comfort here.”
“Physically, we’re all the same. Once through the external color, the heart, the brain, the blood, the pulse, the reactions, the reflexes are all the same.”
“I am not going to quit, I will continue to guide and lead my hospital until my back, my blood and my bones collapse.”
“I believe that it behooves those who attempt to aid in a foreign land to be content with small achievements. We must not attempt to build dynasties. We must try to build at the level of the people, or just one step ahead, always planning it so that the Asian can ultimately take over.”
“I must remember the things I have seen. I must keep them fresh in my memory, see them again in my mind’s eye, live through them again in my thoughts. And most of all I must make good use of them in tomorrow’s life.”