Lyle Morrison Creelman (BSN ’36, MSN, D.SC honoris causa ’92)

Lyle Morrison Creelman was a provincial, national, and international nursing leader of great distinction. On her retirement as Chief Nursing Officer of the World Health Organization in 1968, an editorial in ICN Calling, the news journal of the International Council of Nurses in Geneva, honored her many contribution, stating: “In [her] fourteen years [with WHO], she has probably achieved more for nursing throughout the world than any other nurse of her time.”

Dr. Creelman was born August 14, 1908, in Upper Stewiacke, a farming area in Nova Scotia. She moved with her parents to Richmond, B.C., as a child, and eventually attended Vancouver Normal School to receive her teacher’s certificate. Her first career was an elementary school teacher for three years. She then entered the degree nursing program at the University of British Columbia and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Nursing in 1936. Her first nursing job was as a public health nurse in Cranbrook, B.C., for a year; she then moved to the Metropolitan Health Committee (later the Vancouver Health Department). A Rockefeller scholarship in 1938 enabled her to attend Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York, and she graduated with a master’s degree in nursing in 1939.

Her international nursing role began in 1944, near the end of World War II, when she was invited by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to join its work. After nearly a year in England, she was appointed chief nurse in the British Zone of Occupied Germany. Her job was to organize nursing services to help care for the millions of people of many nationalities who have been displaced from their homes during the War.

In 1950, she was invited to become a nursing consultant, in maternal and child health, in the Nursing Department of the newly formed World Health Organization (WHO). In 1954, she succeeded a British colleague to become WHO’s Chief Nursing Officer. During her work with WHO, she visited many countries, collaborated with many nations, and recruited many well-prepared nurses to initiate projects that later could be carried on alone by the individual country.

Dr. Creelman received many tributes some of which include an honorary doctorate (LLD) from the University of New Brunswick (1963), Canada’s Centennial Medal (1967), she was named to the Order of Canada (1971), received a lifetime honorary membership from the Canadian Public Health Association (1972) and received an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of British Columbia (1992) as well as the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.

Of nursing, she wrote in 1943, and reiterated in the 1990s: “What of the future? It is to a very large extent in our own hands. We will make many errors, but as long as we know our goal and keep it ever in mind our future is bright and secure.”

(Prepared by Glennis Zilm based largely on material she prepared for an entry for American Nursing: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Vern Bullogh, Lilli Semtz, et al and published in 1999.)

Please read her Amazing Alumni Story.