Born in North Dakota, the third child of the Reverend Neils Steingrimur and Erika Rynning Thorlakson, Dr. Paul Thorlakson grew up in Selkirk, Manitoba.
After overseas service during World War I, he graduated in medicine from the University of Manitoba. His first practice was at Shoal Lake, Manitoba and he undertook his post-graduate studies in surgery in London, England.
On returning to Winnipeg, he entered into surgical practice with the late Dr. Neil John Maclean with whom he later formed the Maclean-Thorlakson Clinic (renamed the Winnipeg Clinic in 1938). In the 1940s, he proposed the creation of the Manitoba Medical Clinic (now known as the Health Sciences Centre), and was organizer and chairman of the corporation which promoted this project.
Dr. Thorlakson served as president of several organizations, including the National Cancer Institute of Canada; the Canadian Association of Clinical Surgeons, Western Division; The Canadian Conference of Education, Manitoba Division; and the Canadian Association of Medical Clinics. He organized and was first president of the International Congress of Group Medicine. In addition, Dr. Thorlakson organized and was first president of the Manitoba Institute for the Advancement of Medical Education and Research, which was later renamed the Winnipeg Clinic Research Institute. Upon amalgamation with the Paul H.T. Thorlakson Research Foundation, the research institute in 1988 became the Paul H.T. Thorlakson Foundation.
He served as chairman of other organizations including the Western Regional Committee of the National Research Council of Canada; the campaign committee to establish the Chair of Icelandic Language and Literature of the University of Manitoba; the board of the Manitoba Medical Services; the board of Betel Home; the editorial board of Logberg-Heimskringla; the Canadian (Icelandic) Centennial Committee; the Manitoba Chapter of Canadians for Health Research; and as co-chairman of the Central Region of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.
Dr. Thorlakson served three terms as chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. He became a governor of the American College of Surgeons.
He was named a Knight in 1939 and a Commander in 1951 of the Order of the Falcon by the Government of Iceland, and invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971. On his fifth visit to Iceland in 1974, Dr. Thorlakson was the official representative of the Government of Canada to the celebrations marking the 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland.
Several honorary degrees were bestowed upon Dr. Thorlakson: Doctor of Laws, University of Manitoba (1952); Doctor of Medicine, University of Iceland (1961); Doctor of Science, Brandon University (1970); and Doctor of Laws, University of Winnipeg (1979). He was made an Honorary Fellow of the International College of Surgeons and also of the American College of Hospital Administrators.
He also received Her Majesty’s Canadian Silver Jubilee Medal; the Golden Boy Good Citizenship Award; the Manitoba Medical Association Distinguished Service Award; the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Service; and the 1986 Award for Health Research “for outstanding services in the promotion of Health Research in Canada”. In 1980, Dr. Thorlakson was elected to the office of Chief Hunter of the Order of the Buffalo Hunt.
Dr. Thorlakson passed away in 1988.