Jack Dinham Cottrell (John to many of his friends) was born in Sutton in Surrey, England, the only child of Charles Dinham Cottrell and Florence Burgoyne. The family migrated to Australia and settled in Wentworth Falls New South Wales, in 1911. He went first to the local school and later to Woodford Academy, winning a bursary to the University of Sydney to study medicine, graduating in 1928. He was resident at Lewisham General Hospital in 1928 and 1929, and at Wilcannia Hospital in 1929, before leaving Australia as the medical officer for the Australian contingent of boy scouts to the First World Jamboree at Birkenhead, England in 1929.
In England he worked at the Dreadnaught Hospital for Seamen in London during 1930 and 1931, and at The Royal Victoria Infirmiary, Newcastle on Tyne from 1932 to 1933. In 1934, he went to New Zealand and was medical registrar at Dunedin Public Hospital from 1934 to 1936, and subsequently honorary assistant anaesthetist 1937, and honorary assistant physician from 1937 to 1939, while in practice in Dunedin.
From 1940 to 1945, Dr Cottrell served with the New Zealand Army Medical Corps as captain, Field Ambulance; major, deputy assistant director of medical services headquarters 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF); lieutenant colonel in charge, Medical Division, 2nd and 3rd New Zealand General Hospitals and finally as colonel consultant physician, 2nd NZEF, Italy.
At the end of the war he elected to remain in Europe, transferring with military rank to the newly created United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA, Austrian Mission 1946 and 1947 (he did have charge of the penicillin, but would assure one that he was not The Third Man!) He transferred to The World Health Organization (WHO) with various appointments between 1947 and 1964. He was director of health services, regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean; seconded to United Nations as chief, Health Section Arab Refuge United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); adviser on health programmes to UNICEF Far East Mission, and deputy director WHO Regional Office for Europe.
His formal retirement took place in 1964, but he continued in very active part time consultative work until he left Copenhagen in 1971, with a further assignment in 1972. His monograph 'The Teaching of Public Health in Europe' was published in 1969. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, London and a corresponding member of the 'Gesselschaft der Arzte' of Vienna. After 1972, he did not engage in active medical work but retained his interest through his journals and the most recent edition of the Oxford Textbook of Medicine.
Jack Cottrell joined the WHO in its early years and was described as 'something of a pioneer who made valuable contributions to WHO's work' and as a loyal and experienced WHO civil servant who was always ready to advise and assist younger colleagues. His administrative ability is reflected in the discharge note from UNRRA in 1947:
'As Director of Health to this Mission, Col. Cottrell has done an outstanding job. He possesses administrative ability of a very high order and has organised the medical and nursing services very satisfactorily. He has originated many special services and in spite of having a medical staff of many nationalities has, by his tact and experience, been able to keep them as a happy team. In the same way, he has been able to exact full co-operation from the Military and from the Austrian Government officials with whom he has worked.'
As a medical student Jack belonged to the Sydney University Regiment and played hockey. He was an early member of the Boy Scouts and was a keen bushwalker in the Blue Mountains. He had a great love of Wentworth Falls and it was to here that he retired when he left Copenhagen in 1971. The purchase of Gwandoban from friends, only a few doors from his childhood home of Warinella, enabled him to continue his lifelong hobby of gardening. He established a delightful home with his collection of books, pictures, furniture and other objects surrounded by a beautiful typical Blue Mountains garden. Here there was always a warm welcome to his friends, locally and from around the world. He was an excellent cook and a gracious host. Jack had always enjoyed music and became a member of the Blue Mountains Musical Society serving a term as president, and regularly went to the opera. He was a quiet but sincere Christian and rejoined the congregation of Holy Trinity Church where he worshipped as a boy. From boyhood till his death he always had a dog, usually delightful, but always disobedient as his administrative skill did not extend to the training of canines. He was active in garden societies and other community groups. He made numerous trips overseas to England, Europe and America to visit the many friends and former colleagues now in retirement and scattered around the world, usually arriving home in time for the spring in the garden from which he derived so much pleasure. The last visit in 1988, was something of a sad farewell as he was suffering from severe attacks of vertigo. He remained determined and socially involved until the end, hosting his last Christmas dinner in Gwandoban, also in 1988.
Jack Cottrell was an only child who did not marry, so had no close family. He did however have cousins and a large number of friends; they were world wide, of all nationalities and all ages. As a senior administrative officer in WHO in various parts of the world, he was frequently the contact person for new WHO personnel when they took up a post, often in a new and strange part of the world. His care and concern endeared him to whole families. (He was described as the kind 'oncle').
Jack Cottrell read extensively; early memories are of a boy with a book in his hand and the many hours of travel and hotel living necessitated by his position in WHO were filled by reading. Every room in his house had a full bookcase, titles ranging from history and philosophy to the mystery thriller and included a fine collection of Folio Society books dating from early years of their publication. At the time of his death he was quietly reading his way through Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. This accumulated knowledge and understanding, together with his inherent humanity and Christian ethos, undoubtedly contributed to his vision of broader patterns of medical services with national approaches to reach groups where it was not always possible to reach individuals. At the height of the cold war he was challenged with the proposition that he was a 'communist', a serious accusation at that time. To this he replied,
'I am in a position which gives me the opportunity to improve the lot of mankind and if that makes me a communist then you must so label me.'
His years spent in post war Europe, and later in Scandinavian countries, with well developed social service systems gave him an approach to social issues that was not always acceptable to the conservative community to which he finally retired. An interesting sidelight on his approach to politics was displayed when recording his vote on one of the largest senate papers ever presented to the NSW electorate. He sat for a very long time in a booth with a very long queue behind him putting all women candidates at the top of his list. He believed there should be more women in Australian politics.
In an official farewell at Prague in 1964, Professor Pesonen observed:
'Each one of us who has had the pleasure of getting to know Dr Cottrell ... has observed very quickly that he is a highly educated man who well understands the problems of human beings, and who has a positive and friendly attitude towards them. The utmost gratitude is due to a man who has dedicated his whole life to the health and welfare of all mankind; for more can hardly be asked of any human being.'
In 1971 or 1972, Jack Cottrell intimated to Dr H Maynard Rennie, a friend since undergraduate days, a wish to leave a bequest to The Royal Australasian College of Physicians. This he did: $30,000 'to promote the study of Epidemiology and the Social and Community aspects of Medicine' together with the residue of his estate 'for such purposes as the Council may determine'. It is the view of those people who knew him personally that although he was a modest and retiring person he was an idealist who lived and worked with WHO as a medium through which he could make his contribution to the welfare of the peoples of this world in the broadest sense. We believe that he would be delighted to know that 'The Cottrell Bequest' will enable such work to continue.
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