Frances Kelsey says goodbye

Widely recognized worldwide for her efforts, Kelsey had flown under the radar in her home country for a long time.

Frances Oldham Kelsey — the Cobble Hill woman who saved thousnds of American families from the horror of infant deaths and deformities when she refused to back a push to allow the drug thalidomide into the U.S. in the 1960s — died Aug. 7 at her home in London, Ontario. She was 101.

Widely recognized worldwide for her efforts, Kelsey had flown under the radar in her home country for a long time.

However, she was finally included in the Order of Canada announcement in July 2015 “for her efforts to protect public health, notably by helping to end the use of thalidomide, and for her contributions to clinical drug trial regulations.”

Kelsey actually received her Order of Canada from Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, at her London home a day before she died, according to her daughter, Christine Kelsey.

In the Cowichan Valley, she had already been recognized in the naming of Frances Kelsey Secondary School, but earlier this year, Kelsey graduate Kelly Black had pushed for wider official notice of her achievement.

He organized a petition because he wanted to see greater recognition in Canada for the renowned scientist.

He said last month that he was thrilled to see her made a Member of the Order of Canada.

“I was absolutely delighted. It was phenomenal.”

Black said he thought his petition could have played a part.

“Well, raising the profile of Dr. Kelsey on a level outside of the Cowichan Valley certainly helped. And about her appointment to the Order of Canada: I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I think the increased awareness of Dr. Kelsey’s work in the Cowichan Valley and at a national level because of the compensation provided to thalidomide victims certainly helped.”

Black agreed that Dr. Kelsey shone a light where it needed to be shone.

“Her recognition on a national level is about 60 years overdue but it’s better late than never,” he said.