Dr. Melvyn C. Thorne dies at age 77

Professor at Hopkins School of Public Health who had earlier served in the Peace Corps

August 31, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Dr. Melvyn C. Thorne, a semiretired professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health who was interested in maternal child care and family planning in developing countries, died Aug. 16 of a heart attack at his Roland Park home.

He was 77.

The son of a mechanic and a homemaker, Dr. Thorne was born and raised in San Francisco. After graduation in 1950 from Lowell High School, he worked his way to Europe aboard a freighter.

"He had decided not to go to college and spent time bicycling and traveling throughout Europe," said his wife of 52 years, the former Dorothy Richardson, an educator he met when both were students at the University of California at Berkeley.

Returning from Europe, Dr. Thorne enrolled at Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1958 in physics.

He was a 1960 graduate of Harvard Medical School and completed his internship at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. In 1967, he completed a residency at Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, N.Y.

After graduating from Harvard, Dr. Thorne was a chronic disease researcher at the National Heart Institute's Field Epidemiology Station in Framingham, Mass.

"We were both idealists and were impressed by President Kennedy's 1960 inaugural address where he promised to create a Peace Corps," said Mrs. Thorne.

"He asked me one day, 'What do you think about me signing up for the Peace Corps as a doctor?' So we joined in 1963, and my husband was the first Peace Corps doctor in Morocco," she said.

From 1963 to 1965, Dr. Thorne worked in Rabat, where he cared for Peace Corps workers and developed a program for volunteer laboratory auxiliaries, before returning to the U.S. Public Service in Framingham, where he worked for a year.

Dr. Thorne moved to Washington in 1967, where he trained Peace Corps doctors for overseas service.

After receiving his master's degree in public health in 1968 from what is now Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Thorne went to Tunisia, where he was a consultant to the Tunisian Ministry of Health and helped develop a maternal child health care and family program.

Returning to Baltimore in 1972, he joined what was then the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and Hygiene, teaching in the departments of international health population dynamics and health services.

From 1981 to 1984, he traveled in Nepal, where he was chief of a five-person technical assistance team that worked with the Nepal Ministry of Health in the areas of family planning, maternal health care, oral rehydration therapy, malaria control, immunization and use of microcomputers.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Dr. Thorne began working with the World Health Organization, and during 1997-1998, he participated in the organization's evaluation of the implementation of the Global Strategy for Health for All by 2000.

In recent years at the school for public health, Dr. Thorne taught classes that focused on health management systems and family planning programs in developing countries.

"He had a very interesting life and was a very bright and articulate guy," said longtime friend and colleague Dr. Timothy D. Baker, who teaches international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"We tried to recruit him in the early days, but he went off to Tunisia, where he set up many effective programs in family planning," said Dr. Baker. "And while there, he earned the respect of all of the Tunisians."

Dr. Thorne was "always very popular with his students except one," said Dr. Baker, laughing.

"He had given a student a B, and the student said he had never gotten anything less than an A, and when Dr. Thorne checked, he discovered the student's A's came from Harvard Law School," he said.

Dr. Thorne wrote for various professional journals and was co-author with Joel Montague of "Interagency Coordinating Councils for Population Programmes," and with S. Sapirie and H. Rejeb of "Guidelines for District Team Problem-solving."

Dr. Thorne enjoyed bicycling, hiking, canoeing and reading. He was a classical music fan and was especially fond of the music of Mozart, his wife said.

"He also loved children, and when he was with adults at a party or dinner could be found with the children," said Mrs. Thorne. "He also loved putting on puppet shows for children."

Mrs. Thorne also said her husband was an accomplished gourmet cook who favored stir-fry dishes and Indian curries.

Services were private. Plans for a memorial gathering to be held this fall were incomplete Tuesday.

Also surviving in addition to his wife are a son, James H. Thorne of Davis, Calif.; and a daughter, Mary R. Thorne of Van Nuys, Calif.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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