Dorothy Roseby

first secretary of the RACP

Posted by Karen Myers, Curator, on June 30, 2022

In a recent piece in the Internal Medicine Journal by Associate Professor Catherine Storey 'Discovering the women ‘Foundation Fellows’ of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' she noted that "in histories of the College, there is no mention that five of these pioneers were women"

Another woman whose life should be remembered in the annals of College history is Dorothy Roseby, secretary/executive officer from its foundation in 1938 until her retirement in December 1974. Her name was synonymous with the College for over thirty five years.

After graduating from MLC Burwood in 1932, she won an exhibition to study science at the University of Sydney. Graduating BSc in 1936, Dorothy became a demonstrator in chemistry and botany at the University while at the same time undertaking a secretarial course. She was the first, and for some time, the only employee of the fledgling College.

She suffered an early tragedy in her life when her fiance, Terence Gordon-Glassford, a RAAF pilot, was reported missing presumed dead in 1943 and was never found. It would appear that she threw herself into her work after that and was dedicated to the young College, becoming a key element in its success. During the war, she would have liked to join the WRAAF but her work at the College was considered essential so she trained as ambulance driver instead.

Reading the many tributes to Ms. Roseby she clearly exuded what would be today known as emotional intelligence, the "soft skills" so greatly valued by employers today. She sought to make meaningful connections with all she came in contact through the College, famously memorizing the name of every Fellow, Member and their partners. She gently guided and disciplined her staff but 'everyone realized that there was plenty of steel in the hand in the long white glove.'

"There was no doubt that she was a remarkable power behind the presidential and honorary secretarial 'thrones' and that she often used this power to direct College affairs as she felt they should be directed...if she had not decided to devote her life to the College she would have achieved great eminence and recognition as an executive in another profession or in commercial areas. The College is, indeed fortunate that she did not decide on an alternative career."

A. Kerr Grant, President 1980-82

"Her influence on the future of the College was much greater than that of any ordinary executive...without her contribution the College would be much poorer. She enriched everything she touched."

E. G. Sayers, President 1956-58

"She came to realize that she knew far more than many of the newcomers...she became the active personal centre of the establishment and many of the Fellows and Members turned to her for advice before becoming active in their new roles"

H. Maynard 'Ted" Rennie, President 1970-72

"She was at the nerve centre of the College during its early development, and subsequently helped to guide it through the convulsions of its metamorphosis from the image of a stern examiner to that of a benign and concerned supervisor of training"

Maurice Clarke, Censor-in-chief 1974-1980, Vice-President 1972-1974

" was quite clear that she was indeed the corporate memory of the College...her advice was of inestimable value because she taught me the art of what was possible within the College.....she helped set up the programmes of training and accreditation within the College...she quickly grasped what had to be done and made policy decisions possible."

Bryan Hudson, President 1982-84

This should all be seen in the context of a time when 'the financial lot of the physician...was at a low ebb. The introduction of Health Insurance in or about 1953 left the physicians out in the cold for almost 20 years...the College staff was trained to make the best of what it had as there was little, if any, hope of replacement or improvement.' Roseby was clearly operating as a defacto CEO in the age of the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, 'for meagre financial rewards she worked tirelessly' and was 'never bound by a 40 hour week.'

Despite the limited resources during this period she would oversee:

  • The introduction of physician training
  • The accreditation of hospitals for physician training
  • The phasing out of the MRACP exam
  • The inquiries into the College's role in the continuing education of physicians
  • The development of the multiple choice question bank
  • Inquiries into exchange with Colleges oversees
  • The involvement of the College in matters related to the National Health Act 1970 and the registration of specialists
  • Activities of the Joint Advisory Committee and the Conjoint Conference
  • Wider College involvement in South East Asia
  • College Meeting in Singapore
  • I have to wonder if she ever entertained training as a doctor herself or was ever encouraged to do so by the many doctors she worked with on a daily basis - she already had the Bachelor of Science so was clearly academically able, the main subjects of her degree being mathematics, physics and chemistry. Her inter-personal skills would have made her an outstanding medico. I feel she would have made a wonderful addition to the medical ranks of this College but instead she chose to lead the College behind the scenes ensuring its cohesion and humanity, noting that 'my work was always too enjoyable to leave.'

    Dorothy Roseby was awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours List of 1964 and in 1975 she received Honorary Fellowship of the College.

    Read Dorothy Roseby's entry in the College Roll and see more images here