Remembering Dr Morris Greenberg, 1926-2021 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



In the days and weeks to come others, more learned than I, will write tributes to Dr Morris Greenberg, a kind-hearted and generous physician who died on August 19, 2021. Their expositions will no doubt, detail his many accomplishments, scientific publications and collaborations with international agencies, regional authorities and national governments.

My thoughts when hearing the sad news of Morris’ demise were a jumble of memories of his kindness to the maverick ban asbestos campaigners he came across and the lengths to which he would go to help us. We could never pay him nor could we ever repay him for his assistance but he was always willing to provide guidance and information out of his commitment to making the world a safer place not only for workers but also for members of the public whose lives were being jeopardized by exposures to asbestos.

On occasions, Dr Greenberg provided a lone voice of reason and it was as a result of his decisive but tactful action that dangerous missteps were avoided. I recall an incident in the late 1990s when a United Nations agency was poised to publish a brochure on asbestos in housing that would almost certainly have caused more harm than good as the author had uncritically accepted many of the asbestos industry’s arguments. Dr Greenberg was asked to advise on the publication; his diplomatic approach helped ensure that the contentious text was withdrawn and that, when the brochure was finally published, the advice given was correct.


From left: Dr Colin L. Soskolne, Dr Morris Greenberg and Dr Barry Castleman in Rome, 2008.

I remember my outpouring of frustration at the ill-advised actions of one of the international agencies, which at that time was espousing the asbestos industry’s “safe and controlled use of asbestos.” After letting me vent for, what seemed liked ages, Morris calmly talked me down, explaining that we had no alternative to working with this and other such agencies and had to educate them so that, in future, they would make appropriate choices and decisions based on accurate and updated information. Of course, he was right.

Even in retirement, Dr Greenberg’s work as a medical historian and advisor didn’t stop. When Canada made a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) about the French Government’s ban on chrysotile (white) asbestos, the European Union’s legal team called on Dr Greenberg to assist with defence of the ban. They succeeded. As a result of the WTO rulings upholding the rights of Member States to prohibit toxic imports to protect public health, the EU continued to progress efforts to eradicate the asbestos hazard in all member states.

Morris was one of the greats in the world of occupational medicine, always supporting David against the many corporate Goliaths; his legacy lives on in the cornucopia of publications which he left behind and in the positive changes he effected in HM Factory Inspectorate, the Department of Health, the Royal Society of Medicine and the hearts of those he inspired.

Commenting on the news of Dr Greenberg’s passing, Dr Daniel Teitelbaum remembered:

“his brilliant and biting wit, his scholarship and his human kindness. There won’t be another like him. Grace, scholarship and humanity don’t come along very often.”

Another colleague spoke of Morris’ “enduring and powerful voice for workers and their families and of course for the science,” while others recalled his total commitment and dedication and “his cryptic sense of humor and his advocacy for worker health and safety.” I remember Morris’ exquisite cursive handwriting, his turn of phrase which harked back to a gentler age and his endless courtesy.

The areas of interest that attracted Morris’ attention were wide and varied but for those of us in the ban asbestos community, it was his lifelong commitment to documenting the catastrophic global asbestos legacy and to ending toxic exposures that were our points of connection. By continuing the campaign to eradicate the asbestos hazard, we honor his memory. Thank you, Morris for your scholarship, generosity, friendship and support. You will be sorely missed.

Our sincere condolences to his wife, children, grandchildren, friends and colleagues.

August 23, 2021



       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑