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Vale Dr Nigel Gray, AO

Sunday 21 December, 2014

The public health community in Australia and internationally is in mourning today, with the announcement of the death of one of its pioneers, Dr Nigel Gray AO.

Dr Gray, the Director of the Cancer Council of Victoria from 1968 until 1995, and President of the Union for International Cancer Control from 1990 to 1994, will be remembered as a true agent of change. His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for the modern tobacco control movement.

Dr Gray joined Cancer Council Victoria after working in the fields of infectious diseases and paediatrics.

Amongst his long list of achievements, Dr Gray:

  • galvanised cancer societies and others worldwide into campaign mode against the tobacco industry.
  • instigated the use of forceful anti-smoking ads, and pressed for health warnings.
  • played a crucial role in bans on tobacco advertising.
  • helped establish robust behavioural research in both cancer and smoking, including the use of surveys.
  • Led development of the first comprehensive policy approaches to tobacco control for both the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and World Health Organization.
  • Led the first programs to promote action on tobacco globally, including in developing countries.
  • Led many other cancer control initiatives in Australia and internationally, including development of the Slip, Slop, Slap skin cancer campaigns.

CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, Mr Todd Harper, said that Dr Gray's visionary thinking and action would leave an indelible footprint on the public health landscape.

"Dr Gray spearheaded public education and advocacy in this country, and this is best captured in the development and implementation of legislation to ban tobacco advertising."

"Combining rigorous science, clear thinking and more than dash of his legendary debonair approach, Dr Gray persuaded the Minister (David White) about the need for and the importance of legislation. He then ran a precision campaign to get the legislation up, with both media and bipartisan political support."

Not only did the campaign lead to a ban on tobacco advertising, but also funds from taxes on tobacco products were used to establish VicHealth. This model has subsequently been adopted throughout Australian and around the world.

"Implementation of the legislation in Victoria, then nationally stands testament to Dr Gray's tenacity and his ability to spark interest and inspire action on public health issues despite resistance from tobacco companies and their allies," said Mr Harper.

Former CEO of the Cancer Council Victoria, and past President of the Union for International Cancer Control, Professor David Hill, AO said Dr Gray served as a mentor for countless local and international professionals.

"I and many of my public health counterparts have been the beneficiary of Dr Gray's generosity and willingness to encourage and mentor those working in public health and advocacy."

"His commitment to research and action, his extraordinary mix of establishment persona and radical thinker and his ability to bring out the best in those working with him has created a blueprint for creating change that will be used for many decades to come."

Dr. Gray's achievements were recognised not only with the AO, but also many other awards, including honorary doctorates from Melbourne and Monash Universities.

"He was generous to a fault and he had the highest degree of personal integrity in all matters. He was strong and daring but absolutely incapable of taking advantage of anyone weaker than himself," said Professor Hill.

Dr Gray continued his vital work on tobacco control issues into his ninth decade and it speaks volumes that the tobacco industry always identified him as a significant threat to their business.

Cancer Council Victoria offers its sincere condolences to Dr Gray's wife Ann and family.

Details of a memorial services to be held in January will be released by the Cancer Council at a later date, as will plans to honour Dr Gray's extraordinary contribution to public health.