Dr the Hon. Gilbert Greenall
Doctor of Medicine
15 February 2006 - Orator: Professor Stafford Lightman
The Greenall family have been major property owners and producers and retailers of alcoholic drinks since the 18th Century. Consequent family prosperity ensured that Gilbert was born into a very privileged life in which he was supposed to go into the army and then move into the family business. He went to Eton and Sandhurst, but after spending one year in the family business shuffling bottles he decided he wanted to go to business school. He was firmly told that if he wanted to go to business school he wouldn’t be allowed back into the family business, but showing an independence of spirit that has come to characterise his life he went to business school at Fontainbleu and obtained a bilingual English/French MBA.
Whilst there he discovered that he wasn’t a natural businessman. He talks of a time when in a competition to sell a car at the best price possible he was delighted to achieve a sale at £500 only to find that the competition was selling for up to £50,000. Therefore he decided he would go into management and then work in the field of humanitarian aid. In order to get into humanitarian aid, however, he felt he would need to be able to perform individual aid first and thus needed a medical degree. He decided he needed to qualify as a doctor and came to the University of Bristol to do his MB ChB.
After qualifying in medicine he felt that he also needed business experience and set up his own property company which was very successful. The next challenge was to find suitable enterprises through which he could channel his enthusiasm both for his philanthropy and his love of aesthetics. As far as the aesthetics were concerned he has over time restored his beautiful Regency Greek Revival house together with its gardens; and with respect to philanthropy he has for many years used his medical training in the field of humanitarian assistance.
His medical career is interesting. He did his first house jobs in Bristol, at Frenchay and Southmead hospitals and he then became a Senior House Officer at Cheltenham General Hospital. Basically he continued on and off to be a Senior House Officer at Cheltenham for 10 years – probably a unique achievement! What is, of course, much more important both for Gilbert and for humanitarian aid is all the other things he has done during the same period.
He started his humanitarian work as a volunteer with Christian Outreach on the Thai/Cambodian border – which was at the time of Pol Pot’s eviction from Cambodia in 1979. He then went on to be a field director for Oxfam in Uganda. This was a full time job and he was carrying out famine relief in Karamoja and Arua. Communications were very bad and he felt the only way to cope with this was by using aviation. He therefore negotiated with the UN and Oxfam that if he bought a plane and flew it himself they would pay for the fuel! He certainly had many adventurous moments and being shot at was only one of the excitements of his chosen calling! Since that time he has undertaken many projects for the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Missions in Irian Jaya, Pakistan, North East China, Albania, Kosovo, East Timor, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and, most recently, as United Nations civil/military co-ordinator in the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan.
Gilbert Greenall has, in addition, worked for the Department of International Development in its humanitarian aid activities and since 1991 has worked in Northern Iraq, Bosnia, North West Somalia, Angola, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Montserrat, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Kabul, The Balkans and again, most recently, in Baghdad and Fallujah. He was also humanitarian advisor to Central Command (in Florida!), the Headquarters for the U.S. military command for the Middle East where he helped protect the flow of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan in 2002. He is full of interesting stories about his work and recalls one occasion when he had to insist on his right to uphold international law despite the ire of a 3* American General who snapped his fingers in Gilbert’s face to no avail.
In addition to all these activities Gilbert has been exercise director for creating and managing the civil scenario in Exercise African Shield for the Ministry of Defence, and he has worked for the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit – a joint Ministry of Defence / Foreign Office / Department for International Development programme as a part-time adviser. It is this role that will provide the most long lasting testament to Gilbert’s work. Although most people accept that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN look after the welfare of civilians caught up in conflict, there has been little interest in educating war armies to minimise the destruction of civilian life and property. The concept of ‘overwhelming force’ and disregard for civilians is scarcely likely to lead to enduring peace. Fortunately Gilbert’s 15 years of resolve has ensured that the welfare of civilians and their access to essential services is a concept that is gaining ground. Gilbert has also worked for the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit as an adviser on the Tsunami and has been a member of the mission on policy for Iraq to the Department of Defence at the Pentagon in Washington.
It is, Madam Chancellor, extremely rare to come across an individual who is able to look outside life’s normal expectations, determine where there are needs in the world and risk moving outside the routine progression of hierarchical employment to do something which makes a real difference to large numbers of people. It is fair to say that Gilbert was born with many advantages – but at the same time, few people who are born with them actually make use of them in a way which is so productive, helpful and indeed vital to the welfare of so many people on this planet.
Madam Chancellor I present to you Gilbert Greenall as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Medicine honoris causa.