Douglas Macmillan MBE

Douglas Macmillan was born in Wincanton in 1884. He was the 7th child of William and Emily Macmillan. He was the manager of a local horse-hair weaving business, a staunch nonconformist and leading light in the local temperance movement. Three of Douglas’s brothers entered the church. Douglas Macmillan photo

Douglas went to school – firstly at Sexey’s (1894-7) and subsequently at Sidcot (1897-1901) where he was the head boy. He studied at the Birkbeck Library and Scientific Institute (now Birkbeck College) and in 1905 he became a civil servant at the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. His specialised field was in public health and he was a member of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene and the Institute of Statistics. He retained an affection for Somerset throughout his life and retired to Castle Cary. He had a particular interest in Somerset folklore and antiquities and published in the Somerset Folk Press under the pen name of Douglas Cary. He married twice – his fist wife died of cancer in 1957 and his second wife survived him. He was a devout Christian. The family were Congregationalists, he attended a Quaker school and through his first wife he joined an evangelical sect the Strict and Particular Baptists. He died in 1969.

Douglas founded the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer in 1911 with a gift of £10 from his father who died of cancer that year. He had unconventional views about medical matters based on his fundamentalist Christianity – declaring in an article the “cancer is the fault of sin” and stating that the causes were known! A bold and, at the time, wholly unjustifiable statement.

The first years of the Society were committed to campaigning against vivisection and aiming to prove that dietary factors were the cause of cancer. In 1913 the Society did, however, start to develop one activity which continues to this day – the publication of information booklets and sheets on cancer. It was 1923 that the Society first decided to concentrate its charitable work on relief and shortly after that the first grant ot a patient was recorded. In the years between 1923 and the start of the Second World War the Society continued to develop its welfare programme of grants to patients, campaigned for better facilities in hospitals for the treatment of cancer patients and the first full-time nurse visitors were appointed. The income of the Society started to grow in the forties and fifties through radio appeals and the development of a more professional approach to fundraising and in the 1960’s the first Macmillan buildings were opened.

The 1970’s saw a great growth in the activities of the Society with the opening of a number of Macmilln Units, the appointment of the first Macmillan nurses and the establishment of the Macmillan medical education programme. The activities have increased rapidly since then There are now over 4000 Macmillan nurses and many hundred other health care professionals. The grants and welfare programmes provide support for many of those affected by cancer and the information services (enhanced by the merger with Cancer Backup) are widely used and valued. There are 2 million living in the UK with a cancer diagnosis and this figure is likely to double over the next 20 years. During the last year Macmillan provided support for over one and a half million people affected by cancer.

The charity has changed its name on two occasions – to The Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund in 1984 and to Macmillan Cancer Support in 2006.