Dr Alje Vennema was born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, in August 1932. He came to Canada in 1951, graduating from McGill University Medical School in 1962. He attended Hammersmith Post-Graduate Medical School in 1969 and the Welsh National School of Medicine, receiving a diploma in tuberculosis and chest diseases in 1970.
During the 1960s he worked in South Vietnam as a technical advisor and later as director of Canadian medical assistance to South Vietnam from 1965 until 1968.
Alje subsequently attended the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and became a board-qualified pediatrician in 1982. He worked in the department of pediatrics at Tulane University in New Orleans and later in New York City, becoming director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis in the New York City Department of Health.
He came to BC in 1988 and worked as a clinician in the Division of Tuberculosis control at the BC Centre for Disease Control until 1997, although he continued to provide sessional coverage.
Alje was the author of two books and spoke six languages. He was deeply interested in helping the less privileged throughout his career. Shortly after his arrival in Canada he started working in the Downtown Eastside. He believed in giving back rather than taking, and working where he was needed.
Among his accolades were the Order of Merit from the government of South Vietnam in 1965, the Distinguished Graduate Award from McGill University, and the Order of Canada in 1967.
He was still working when a stroke disabled him and cruelly deprived him of his great love in life, which was walking and hiking long distances. He did not want a funeral service but prior to his death, at his request, we gathered to say our farewells. He died shortly after on 7 June at his home, in the company of his wife, Miriam, and his son, Alje. Many of us expressed our desire to make a difference when we entered medical school. Alje Vennema did just that. He left nothing on the table.
—Richard K. Elwood, MD
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