Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Interesting characters

Today, two reference questions from afar--one much farther than the other, to be sure--about people who were active in the medical community of the Pacific Northwest: one male, one female; one a doctor, the other a nurse; one born in the 19th century and the other in the 20th; both leaders of very interesting lives.

A gentleman from Ontario, Canada, saw on the web that we have a Biographical File on his great-grandfather, A.E.R. Strath-Gordon. Not at all a familiar name to me, I verified that this was correct and went up to pull the file. One piece of paper only, but what a great piece of paper!: the longish obituary published by the Oregonian on January 8, 1952. In it, we learn that Alexander Edward Ronald was born in Aberdeen-Huntly, Scotland, in 1873, and that he received his medical degree "with highest honors" from the Edinburgh Medical School. That's when it gets interesting:
He entered the British army and was stationed with the Cree Indian tribe in northwest Canada where he remained seven years. During the Boer war he served as a medical officer in Africa with the rank of major, and at the close of the war was one of several British professional men sent on confidential missions to various areas of the world.
In 1904 he opened his medical office in Seattle.... During World War I he was a medical officer with the British army in France with the rank of colonel....
He then became head of the British passport control service in New York where he stayed until his retirement in 1934.... In 1942 he came to Portland as an instructor at Hill Military academy.
Dr. Strath-Gordon was the founder of the Atlantean Research society and was a 33d degree Mason from the mother lodge in Scotland. He had a working knowledge of 32 languages and was a proficient scholar of Sanskrit.
Now THAT would have been a great collection of personal papers!

The other query came from across the gorge in Walla Walla, WA, where a woman is looking for more information about her aunt, who was a nurse, army lieutenant, and accomplished painter. Doris Burnette Harris Merritt served with the UOMS volunteer unit, the 46th General Hospital, and was supervisor of the medical-surgical unit at the Multnomah County Hospital here on Marquam Hill. During her career and after her retirement, she produced oil portraits of the physicians and others whom she encountered (including the then famous Tigner Quads), which hung for a period of time on the walls of local hospitals. Information about her time in Europe during the war has been deposited in an archive in our nation's capitol.

I just love "meeting" the interesting old characters who once graced these shores, and I'm always grateful for the patrons who bring them to my attention!

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