Kenneth T. Macfarlane

Kenneth T. Macfarlane


We saw Kenneth Macfarlane last at his ninetieth birthday party. He was just the same as the first time I saw him when I was a boy and he began his practice association with my father. He was young-looking, blue-eyed and fair-haired, and exuded energy and enthusiasm.

He had begun his practice after graduating from the University of Western Ontario, plus an internship and residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1 year of which was in Philadelphia with Edmund Piper. Piper at the University of Pennsylvania was the master obstetrician who had designed the Piper forceps for delivering of the after-coming head during breech delivery. This experience was at that time exceptional.

My father was Chief at the Montreal General Hospital and had been Superintendent of the Montreal Maternity Hospital, which had moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital Women's Pavilion within the previous 5 years. That combined Obstetrics/Gynecology department was headed up by Walter Chipman. Ken Macfarlane thought that he would immediately get an appointment at the Royal Victoria Hospital, but he failed to understand the rift that then existed between the two institutions and particularly between the two chiefs. It was quite a few years after this that he was finally appointed there. In fact, Ken Macfarlane became one of the most noted obstetrician/gynecologists in Montreal and particularly at the Montreal General Hospital, where he was for many years chief. When the Montreal General Hospital opened its Western Division and its new obstetrical ward early in the 1930s, it was no longer necessary for Dr. Macfarlane to go to the Royal Victoria Hospital except on those occasions that one of his patients specifically requested it.

Ken was recognized by all the major British, Canadian, and American societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology. These honors are expressed after his name in Britain and Canada by the designations FRCOG and FRCSC. In the United States he was a member of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of the leading societies of the specialty. He was known by obstetricians and gynecologists of stature throughout the world for his capability, practicality, and most of all for his indomitable enthusiasm. The latter aspect of his character was well appreciated at meetings when, late at night while society members relaxed, he would sit down and enjoy playing the piano for them -- no one will forget those occasions! On the afternoon preceding his death he played the piano for his family, said "Good night," and went to sleep!

Ken served his own societies, the Montreal Obstetrical Society, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada in many ways by holding the posts of treasurer, vice president, and president; he was always recognized for his leadership abilities.

Most of all Ken served his Hospital, his patients, and his University, where finally he became Professor Emeritus. He was the consummate clinical teacher of students and residents and was ahead of his time with suggestions for his department. Often he would become frustrated by the inertia, lack of vision, and arguments of restricted resources that he would sometimes encounter from medical and hospital administrators. By his patients he was beloved, respected, and was turned to for advice and care; in this he was superb. He faced clinical problems with great knowledge, skill, and experience; he calmed fears and gave advice with wit and common sense; he was the consummate physician to the Montreal of his day.

Always practical and correct, he would chastise me as a young physician for being "brash" and "disrespectful," but then his eyes would glint and he would throw out a challenge; he was like that with everyone. His loyalty was his watchword in our family as it was for all his "families," where he was relied on for all manner of advice, support, and medical consultation. He never let anyone down and he never changed. In his profession he was an outstanding man but even more he was an extraordinary human being! Ken died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 91.

His marvelous family shared him with all of us, from "Marn," his delightful wife who predeceased him, to his children and grandchildren who, as "chips off the old block," are presently augmenting his reputation. We all loved him and we shall miss him. I hope the University has not forgotten him and his contributions; I know his friends never can!

Submitted by Brian Little, MD

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