In Memoriam Theodore MacDonald 1933-2011

Fighter for social justice

Theo MacDonald was a committed socialist and anti-imperialist, and, throughout his life as a teacher and a doctor, one of the kindest and funniest of men. He inspired those he met not only to understand injustice but also to challenge it in whatever way they could. He taught, lectured, discussed and wrote with a contagious passion and enthusiasm. ‘Be patient and leave lots of room for good humour,’ he advised. Despite his enormous achievements – over his lifetime he published 40 books and 200 research papers – he was one of the most humble people you could meet.

Theo’s extraordinary life, which took him all over the world, began in Quebec, Canada, where his father was the leader of a fascist movement. Theo ran away from home and lived off his own resources until being taken in by Jesuits who looked after him and educated him. While serving in the Canadian army in Korea, he was taken as a prisoner of war by the North Koreans and, impressed by the anti-imperialist ideology of his captors, defected to North Korea at the end of the war. He later hitched a ride on an East German ship and completed his medical training in East Germany, then part of the Soviet bloc.

Throughout his life, a socialist commitment to humanity was at the heart of everything he did. A long-time supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Group, in 1996 he wrote an article for FRFI entitled ‘We must have socialism’. He worked as a doctor and teacher in many countries, including Korea, Vietnam, Jamaica, Fiji, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba and held university chairs in mathematics, medicine and education. He was a consultant in health and education with organisations including the World Health Organisation and UNESCO and up to his retirement directed Postgraduate Studies in Health at Brunel University. Many of Theo’s books focus on human rights and in particular the human right to global equity in health and education.

Theo was clear that it is the dictates of capitalism that require two thirds of the world’s population to remain poor and underdeveloped in order to maintain the super-abundance of a privileged minority. Theo always used Cuba as an example of what is possible in a society governed by human need, rather than the drive for profits. One of his books, Hippocrates in Havana (1995), was a popular exposition of Cuba’s extraordinary achievements and humanity in the development of a socialist health system.  Theo was impressed by the Cuban theory of ‘emulation’ rather than competition – the encouragement of each individual in the group to contribute to everyone’s learning so that the group as a whole benefits. Of the Cuban literacy campaign in 1961 that eradicated illiteracy he said: ‘The genius of the Cuban campaign was that they made it make a difference, it was about learning to read so they could join in politically and socially.’

In the last ten years, Theo increasingly turned his attention to the role of the United Nations and its failure, through the World Health Organisation (WHO), to adequately promote health as a basic human right. On the contrary, he wrote, the UN and WHO cooperate with agencies funding loans tied to Structural Adjustment Policies which actually undermine health provision in underdeveloped countries. In his last book, published in 2010, Theo argues forcefully that the UN Security Council veto mechanism has been central to allowing Israel to survive and pursue its war on the Palestinian people.

Theo never took a penny from the sale of his books, giving the royalties to Cuba or other international projects. All proceeds of his most recent book are going to a charity for Gaza. In every preface he pays tribute to his wife Chris, who shares his commitment to humanity, and supported him throughout ‘the inevitable domestic chaos’ of his research and writing.

FRFI extends its sympathy to Theo’s family and friends. In the words of his son Matthew, ‘the cause of global justice and peace has lost one of its finest sons’.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011


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