Locals fight to honour Cowichan-born hero who blocked thalidomide

The campaign is on to have one of Cowichan’s most heroic former residents recognized nationally.

Kelly Black, with the assistance of Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder, has started a push to have Dr. Frances Kelsey honoured as a person of national historic significance.

Black began his campaign after the Department of Canadian Heritage released a survey in the spring that included the question: Which Canadians have inspired you the most over the last 150 years? From the answers, a list of Canada’s top 10 heroes was put together.

"The list was entirely male, there wasn’t a single female on that list," said Black. "I felt that was a bit ridiculous."

When he considered women of significance in Canadian history, as a student of Frances Kelsey Secondary School in Mill Bay from 1998 to 2002, the school’s namesake was the first person that came to mind.

Kelsey was born in Cobble Hill in 1914. She received a BSc and an MSc in pharmacology in Canada, then went to the U.S. where she got her PhD and M.D. degrees. She began work with the American Food and Drug Administration in 1960.

"In her first month at the FDA, she was pressured to approve the release of a sleeping pill for pregnant women call thalidomide," Crowder said. "She had seen data that women who used the drug repeatedly experienced dangerous side effects and in 1961 when British reports of severe birth defects in children started, that was the information Dr. Kelsey needed to block approval of the drug in the U.S., which eventually led to its ban around the world."

"She was the one who really blew the whistle on thalidomide and its effects," she said. "Without her intervention, I can’t imagine how many more people would have been impacted by it."

It was a very brave thing for Kelsey to do, said Black.

"The fact that Dr. Kelsey stood up to the pressure of the pharmaceutical companies to approve this drug, thalidomide, was a very powerful thing for her to do, particularly as an upcoming person working at the federal drug administration, and also as a woman," he said.

Kelsey has been extensively honoured in the U.S., receiving the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a civilian, and in 1995 she had a minor planet named after her. In 2000 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2001 she was named a Virtual Mentor for the American Medical Association.

Given her achievements, Kelsey should be ripe for recognition as a person of national historic significance in Canada.

There’s just one catch – she’s still alive.

Guidelines of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada state that a person must be dead for 25 years before being recognized.

Black calls the rule archaic, and Crowder agreed.

"Why wouldn’t we actually honour people while they’re still here?" Crowder questioned. "I just don’t understand that rule."

It’s been 53 years since Kelsey, now 100, did the work for which she would be recognized, Crowder said, which would be in keeping with the historical nature of the award.

"Why not now?" she asked. To support the effort to have Kelsey recognized by the federal government, contact the Historic Sites and Monuments Board and the Ministry of Environment. A draft of a letter is available at https://canstud.wordpress. com/2014/06/18/frances-kelseyunsung-canadian-hero/, and scroll down to "Application: HSMBC_ FrancesKelsey_Application" There’s also a petition you can download at www.jeancrowder.ca

Just Posted

VIDEO: Province agrees to fund investigation of new bypass road for Lake Cowichan

Province won’t build the road but is ready to start the ball rolling by paying for the first step

Business notes: New owners celebrate at Arbutus Ridge Golf Course

The award-winning Arbutus Ridge Golf Course in Cobble Hill has a new… Continue reading

Cowichan Green Community eyes funding for value added food processing

The folks at Cowichan Green Community are licking their chops after the… Continue reading

Cowichan lacrosse grads square off in Jr. B playoffs

Delta takes series after win in Duncan

Roller derby returns to Cowichan Exhibition’s Mellor Hall

Food trucks, beer garden, roller disco all on tap for July 27

VIDEO: Compton and Cooper share first place in Duncan Has Talent while Heard takes third

A difficult decision was made easier by splitting the first and second place prize money between two

Man involved in beating and tasering over a drug debt to be sentenced in Nanaimo

Colin Damen Gary Lamontagne pleaded guilty to charges, including aggravated assault

Pamela Anderson adds star power to B.C. Green Party town hall

Celebrity attended Nanaimo meeting with representatives from U.S.-based environmental group

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

Chinook retention begins on North Island, but amid new size limit

DFO calls measures ‘difficult but necessary’ following rockslide on Fraser River

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Most Read