Dr. Tom Dooley – Visionary

Dr. Tom Dooley

The likes of Dr. Tom Dooley shall not pass this way again.

Tom Dooley met his destiny in 1954 while serving as a young Navy Lieutenant assigned to caring for refugees in North Vietnam. From that experience his life took fire and was never to be the same again. Tom, who grew up in a comfortable suburb of St. Louis, was tormented by his new found realization that half the world goes to bed hungry every night, that half the world spends a lifetime without seeing a doctor – that half the world still suffers from the diseases of Biblical days.



The young physician was unable to ignore these realities of human existence. He was determined to bring to the other half of the world medical care, education and training for better health and a new quality of life. In 1958, he founded MEDICO, and in the three short years before his painful death from cancer in 1961, he established 17 medical programs in 14 countries. Tom Dooley captured the heart of America and became a legend in his own time.



In those few short years he became one of the world’s most admired men – honored by such notables as His Excellency the Pope, Albert Schweitzer, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, Dr. Charles Mayo and posthumously by a special medal authorized by the United States Congress.

Tom was a most uncommon man. Being a poor and undisciplined student in medical school – – his MD Degree from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, was temporarily deferred but conferred at a later date – – thanks to the efforts of the school’s dean. Tom subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned as an intern at the Camp Pendleton, California Navy Hospital. Tom was soon reassigned to the Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Japan. After an unusually brief tour he was transferred from shore to ship duty. With that the Dooley legend began.


The ship happened to be the USS Montague headed for Haiphong, North Vietnam, to aid in the evacuation of 800,000 refugees and civilians being forced to leave North Vietnam for South Vietnam in accordance with the terms of the 1954 Geneva Peace Treaty, ending the French Indochina War. Many of them were devout Catholics. North Vietnam was then an oppressive atheistic Communist state. In providing medical services to those refugees, Tom’s life was changed forever. At the age of 27, he found purpose and meaning to his life.


Tom Dooley died of cancer in January 1961, at the age of 34. He was buried in St. Louis and given a Military Funeral with a U.S. Navy Honor Guard.