An early global health crusader, with a celebrity connection

Actor Colin Firth’s DMU connection

British actor Colin Firth turned out an Oscar-nominated performance in his recent movie, “A Single Man,” but his Feb. 3 interview with Terry Gross on the public radio program “Fresh Air” turned up an item that’s just as cool: Firth’s maternal grandfather, John Rolles, graduated from Des Moines Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery (now DMU) in 1952.

After graduating from England’s Nottingham University and becoming an ordained minister, Rolles and his wife, Helen, worked as missionaries in India. “He joined the British Missionary Society because he heard that they were building schools and hospitals in India,” Firth told Gross in the interview. “He was not evangelical. He didn’t go around converting people.”

Deciding they could best serve India by providing medical care, Rolles brought his family – which by then included son Christopher and daughter Shirley, Firth’s mother – to Iowa, where he enrolled at DMU in 1948. He was immediately the Big Man on Campus and off, speaking to student groups and local organizations about his experiences in India.

After John graduated, the Rolles family returned to serving villagers in India, with financial contributions from Still faculty and students, their church and the Polk County Society of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons. “Still College has given us a great opportunity in this field,” Rolles told the Still College Log Book, “and we are proud to be an outpost of the profession.”

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