The Thomas A. Dooley Award

Tom Dooley with Award

The Thomas A. Dooley Award honors individuals who, through their faith-based background, have demonstrated personal courage, compassion and commitment to advance the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. The award is named for the gay, former Notre Dame student who achieved world fame in the 1950s for his humanitarian activities while serving in the Navy in Southeast Asia, and even greater fame when he continued his humanitarian work as an American “jungle doctor” in Laos subsequent to his undesirable discharge from the Navy.

GALA-ND/SMC bestows a $1,000 gift to a charity of the honoree’s choice.

The Award is named for the gay, former Notre Dame student, Dr. Thomas Anthony Dooley III (1927-1961), who achieved world fame in the 1950s for his humanitarian activities while serving in the Navy in Southeast Asia. Affectionately referred to as “Dr. America”, Dr. Tom Dooley provided medical care and established charitable hospitals to assist the needy of Vietnam and Laos before his early death from cancer at age 34.

Dr. Tom Dooley attended Notre Dame in 1944 and subsequently enlisted in the United States Navy’s Corpsman Program, serving in a naval hospital in New York. He returned to Notre Dame in 1946, but left without receiving a degree. Dr. Tom Dooley later received an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame on June 5, 1960.

Tom Dooley
While in medical school at St. Louis University School of Medicine, Dr. Tom Dooley rejoined the Navy for his internship and was assigned to the Navy Hospital at Camp Pendleton, California. In 1954, he was assigned as a Medical Officer aboard the U.S.S. Montague and worked in the evacuation of Haiphong. There he witnessed the suffering of more than 600,000 refugees from North to South Vietnam.

During his Naval service, Dr. Tom Dooley was investigated for participating in homosexual activities. Despite his selfless military and humanitarian service, he was forced to resign from the Navy in March 1956.

After his release from the Navy, Dr. Tom Dooley returned to Laos to set up hospitals and small clinics. With the aid of doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other interested persons he was able to alleviate the sufferings of countless people in Southeast Asia.

Tom Dooley in Surgery
Dr. Tom Dooley described his humanitarian activities in Vietnam and Laos in three popular and inspirational books: Deliver Us From Evil: The Story of Vietnam’s Flight to Freedom (1956), The Edge of Tomorrow (1958), and The Night They Burned the Mountain (1960).

Dr. Tom Dooley’s virtuous services to mankind have served as a great inspiration to many. Following his death John F. Kennedy referenced Dr. Dooley’s work when he launched the Peace Corps. He was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. There have been efforts to have him canonized as a saint. His memory is enshrined at Notre Dame with a plaque of one of his letters to Father Hesburgh at the Grotto. The Dooley Foundation-Intermed International provides medical assistance to refugees, children, and villagers in Laos, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Thailand, with an emphasis on self-help projects in the areas of preventive medicine, public health, family planning and health worker training. The Dr. Tom Dooley Society is an organization for the medical alumni of Notre Dame, dedicated to education, mentorship and global service to humanity. The Notre Dame Alumni Association bestows an award that also bears his name.