Did you know that a South grad was one of a select group of medical experts whose research led to the development of the first birth-control pill? Did you know that prior to becoming an internationally respected physician, he was an aspiring singer who helped finance his way through medical school at Western by singing at places like the Grand Theatre, Stork Club, and Wonderland Gardens? That he recorded songs on the RCA label using the pseudonym “Don Harding” and even had his own radio show?
Dr. Earl Plunkett (’41), lived at 37 Cathcart Street while attending South. During his time there, he sang in the Glee Club, and served on both the students’ council and the yearbook’s editorial staff. His future wife, Corinne (Aziz), sister of well-known London artist, Philip Aziz (’40) also attended South, graduating in 1946.
After finishing his training at Duke, Dr. Plunkett returned to London where he taught at the University of Western Ontario’s medical school for many years. From 1968 to 1982, he served as Chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department. During this time, he worked to bring in vitro fertilization technology to Canada and established a successful centre at UWO. He is also credited with developing the first hormone replacement drugs.
In addition to his work in developing the birth-control pill, Dr. Plunkett worked with renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Drake, researching the hormonal connections in both breast and prostate cancers, work which resulted in major breakthroughs in the field of endocrinology.
Nationally, he served as Chair and Director of the Canadian Committee on Fertility Research, was a member of the Advisory Committee to the Minister of Health and the President of the Canadian Fertility Society, as well as a Fellow of the American Gynecological Society.
After Dr. Plunkett passed away in 1997, his son Steve established the Plunkett Foundation in his honour, with a $5 million endowment to support medical research and provide equipment to local hospitals. Although the Foundation wound up in 2015, its contributions to the London community during its 17 years of operation were impressive.
Dr. Earl Plunkett was a truly exceptional researcher, teacher, and doctor; a South alumnus we can all be very proud of and who certainly deserves to be included on our Wall of Recognition for South’s 100th: “100 Names for 100 Years”.