Many happy birthday returns!

10 November 2020

It's not every day that we get to celebrate a 100th birthday. Last week, Emeritus Professor Malcolm Whyte enjoyed a virtual birthday party with more than 200 friends and family from across the world to mark this important milestone. The event was also attended by special guests who commented on Malcolm's life, including our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, Rhodes National Secretary Professor Peter Kanowski and the Master of Balliol College (Oxford). Perhaps the highlight was all participants joining a boisterous round of 'happy birthday', each complete with their own cake and candle! 

Now, you may be wondering; how does someone make it to 100? You might expect the recipe for success to be a fastidious pilates routine, some esoteric diet or a rigorous meditation regime. We caught up with Malcolm to share his secrets to a long and happy life.  

 "My own recipe includes ingredients, apart from genes; curiosity (you have to stay alive to find out more), family and friends, a sense of humour, an eye for beauty, an ear for music, loving and being loved," Malcolm says.  

Reflecting on his life, Professor Whyte has lots of wisdom to share. He reminds us to stay real life! Whilst COVID-19 has normalised online platforms as a way to maintain our communities, Professor Whyte emphasizes the importance of connecting with our peers and loved ones through casual conversation. 

"Technology and acronyms have flourished. Unfortunately, bedside getting-to-know-you chit chat, so important in the human diagnostic healing process, has diminished and is too often been disregarded."  

The value of introspection and reflection has also been a powerful thread running through our conversation. He joked about how one of the most important things to him is having time for 'selfies' - not the common photographic kind, but the "serious moments where I can find and define the essential fair-dinkum me."  

Finding time for these 'selfies', alongside catching up with friends on Zoom and shopping for food online, have been some of Professor Whyte's favourite ways to manage COVID-19 changes.  

Professor Whyte left us with a Marina Benjamin quote: 'As life progresses and you start turning the light inwards, it is self-knowledge - quiet, individual, generative - that comes to the fore and, as Carl Jung suggested, brings with it peace and enrichment'. 

Congratulations on the big 1-0-0 Professor Whyte and thank you for all your contributions over a stellar career.   

Emeritus Professor Malcolm Whyte 

Malcolm has had an illustrious career. He graduated top of his class in 1944 with both a University Medal and Rhodes Scholarship. After his wartime service with the Army in Borneo and the Celebes, he started his career as a Senior Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Queensland. Soon after, he completed his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, where he gained a DPhil and won membership of the Royal College of Physicians. 

Upon his return to Australia, his career spanned the gamut of the health sector. In 1952, he started working as a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at Kanematsu institute at Sydney Hospital, and in 1966 was appointed Foundation Chair of Clinical Science in the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU. 

In 1977, Professor Whyte pivoted to more social and behavioral aspects of medicine. He was appointed coordinator of the community-based Alcohol and Drug Dependence Unit within the ACT Health Commission, working closely with field agencies like Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Alcoholics Anonymous. Following this, he became Consultant in Community Health in the Northern Territory Department of Health in 1984, mentoring and training community health workers. 

Returning to Canberra from the Northern Territory a year later, the 65-year old Malcolm became active in the Red Cross Blood Bank, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, the Canberra Marriage Counselling Service, Lifeline Canberra, and the Ethics Committee of the Australian Institute of Health. He coordinated a review of Health Services in South Australia, and was appointed Commissioner of Complaints for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).  

Malcolm was elected an Emeritus Professor of the ANU in 1980, awarded an Honorary MD in the University of Queensland in 1986, and appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1991.