Dr. Bruce Douglas, someone we all should know

Dr. Bruce Douglas and former Chicago Chapter board member, Dr. Linda Gruber, who currently resides in Arizona.

Dr. Bruce Douglas and former Chicago Chapter board member, Dr. Linda Gruber, who currently resides in Arizona.

By Mary Mares-AweTHIS YEAR. THE WORLD MARKS the 70th Anniversary of the End of World War II. The American forces who liberated the world from the Nazi/fascist terror are part of what’s known as “The Greatest Generation”. A generation that distinguished itself with bravery, sacrifice and a sense of duty to make the world a safer place for the next generations. For that, we owe them our gratitude. Today, the concept of a safe world is especially poignant as new forms of terror are rearing their evil heads in many parts of the world. We are reminded of just how grateful we should all be, to the allied soldiers who destroyed an evil 70 years ago, so that we can now live free.

I’m proud to know a member of the “Greatest Generation,” and he is one of us –a Fulbrighter. His name is Dr. Bruce Douglas and he has a long list of honors next to his name. He served in the Pacific Theater with the US Navy, and was stationed in Japan and Korea for several years. He received his undergraduate education at Princeton, where he was impressed with the University’s motto, “in the nation’s (later changed to the “world’s) service”; he received a dental degree from New York University and his postgraduate training in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Columbia University.

Dr. Douglas returned to Japan as a Fulbright professor, where he taught innovative techniques in oral surgery to Japanese students and doctors at Okayama University, from 1959 to 1961. He learned Japanese and became a part of the local community, renting a typical Japanese house. His wife gave birth to their second son, who was the biggest baby ever born at Okayama University Hospital. Japanese was their first son’s initial language. The Douglas family’s community role led local leaders to request a renewal of his Fulbright grant, and Bruce was granted an unprecedented second Fulbright year as a result.

Bruce’s outlook on the world matured when, as a teenager, he spent three summers at a scholarship summer camp in upstate New York where, as he says, “I met kids from all over the world,” as well as boys from outside his confined Brooklyn neighborhood. “That was the start of my international experience,” which ultimately led to his Fulbright years in Japan. “I knew then, that I was going to do things that were international in nature,” he adds.

Bruce’s interest in education, led him to Columbia University Teachers College, where he received a Master’s degree and a Professional Diploma in Higher Education. Bruce says the highlights of his studies at Columbia were courses with the world-renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead and Donald Tewksbury, Professor of International Education.

Dr. Bruce Douglas and Hon. Consul General of Japan, Toshiyuki Iwado discussing education issues during a recent reception at the consul's residence.

Dr. Bruce Douglas and Hon. Consul General of Japan, Toshiyuki Iwado discussing education issues during a recent reception at the consul’s residence.

His introduction to Fulbright came from a Japanese Fulbright professor, whom he had met earlier while serving in the Navy in Japan, who asked him to come to Japan to teach and conduct research. Today Bruce still keeps up with his contacts in Japan, and he is a personal friend of the Japanese Consul General in Chicago.

After his Fellowship, Bruce spent a year at the University of California acquiring a Master’s degree in Public Health, which ultimately became the foundation for all his future professional activities. He moved with his family to Chicago where he became Professor of Oral Medicine at the UIC College of Dentistry and Professor of Preventive Medicine at the College of Medicine. He also began a long part-time career as an oral surgeon in Chicago’s and, later, Waukegan’s lower-income neighborhoods.

Dr. Douglas and his wife Jan at the 2013 Fulbright Chicago Holidays Reception, where Dr. Douglas received the Pioneer Award. With the, Dr. Ron Harvey.

Dr. Douglas and his wife Jan at the 2013 Fulbright Chicago Holidays Reception, where Dr. Douglas received the Pioneer Award. With them, Dr. Ron Harvey.

He continued his Fulbright legacy, becoming co-founder of the Fulbright Association’s Chicago Chapter, and its first president. He was also a Fulbright “ambassador” to the Soviet Union and Russia in 1990, 1992 and 1995.

In the ’70s he served as an elected member of the Illinois House of Representatives and was instrumental in encouraging the State of Illinois to invest in a School of Public Health at UIC, of which he was the first faculty member. As a legislator, he introduced and passed many pieces of legislation, most notably in the fields of public health and education; but the two for which he is best known were the right-turn-on-red law and the start of the Illinois lottery, in the “mistaken expectation” he adds, that its profits would all go into public education.

In July of this year, Bruce celebrated his 90th birthday. He was invited to return to the UIC School of Public Health in October of 2014, to which he commutes three days a week as Professor of Health and Aging; and he has also been reappointed Professor of Oral Medicine at the College of Dentistry. He has recently published a compendium of his work on the subject of “the older worker,” which is a field in which he has published and lectured widely.

I had the privilege to interview Bruce about his Fulbright and life experiences at his North Shore home, where I also met his lovely wife and their little grandson Joey —Bruce’s pride and joy. Bruce met Jan, his second wife, in Thailand where they were both serving as WHO consultants. Jan is the Human Resource Director of Refugee One, a major Chicago organization that settles refugees from some of the most deprived places on earth. Their first child, Sarah, works with the UN Women’s Peace and Security Division, in a high ranking managerial position. Another daughter, Sandy, whom they adopted when she was four, from Colombia, where Bruce had served as a WHO consultant, also works for Refugee One.

The content of the interview goes well beyond the scope of this blog post, but I wanted to share portions of it with you, so that you too can get to know one of the most distinguished and inspirational members of our Chicago Chapter, and someone we all should know.

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