J Donald Millar

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 05 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5318
  1. Bob Roehr, Washington, DC

Public health doctor who was crucial to the global eradication of smallpox, and to the improvement of health and safety in the workplace

Before HIV there was smallpox, a scourge that would rip through communities, covering peoples’ bodies with pustules, killing a third, and leaving survivors with pox scars as a reminder of the terror it had wrought.

J Donald Millar had a key role in eradicating smallpox. Later he would disprove F Scott Fitzgerald’s adage that there are no second acts in American lives by modernising research into health and safety in the American workplace.

Millar was born in the US, of Scottish and English stock, in 1934. His ancestors had come to work in the shipyard of Newport News, Virginia. He embraced the credo of local oystermen to “follow the water”—to do what his immediate boss asked of him—and this led to an extraordinary life and career.

When barely in his teens, Millar spotted Joan Phillips playing a fairy godmother in a grammar school operetta; a few months later they were assigned to the same eighth grade classroom. Joan’s mother would not let her date for more than a year, until she turned 15. “We dated for nine years before we married,” Joan recently told The BMJ. “We had to wait until he finished the first two …

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