Lives of the fellows

John Patmore Gemmell

b.15 September 1917 d.25 June 1987
MD Manitoba(1941) MRCP(1946) FRCPC(1947) FRCP(1970)

John Patmore Gemmell was born in Winnipeg but grew up in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, where his father was a general practitioner. His mother was Janet Victoria Patmore, daughter of a farmer. Like many prairie sons he loved the West, and naturally entered his father’s profession and pursued it with devotion and distinction throughout his life.

He took premedical studies at the University of Manitoba and entered the faculty of medicine in 1937 where he excelled as a student, winning many academic awards throughout the course. He was interested in debating and was an articulate speaker. After graduating MD he spent a year as resident in medicine at the Winnipeg General Hospital, where he demonstrated exceptional clinical skills and a capacity for bedside teaching which was to flower in later years. On completion of his residency he joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps where he was soon appointed a medical specialist with the rank of major - at the time he was the youngest major in the RCAMC. He served with the 5th Canadian General Hospital in England, Sicily, Italy and northwest Europe. Despite the strenuous demands of a busy hospital, in constant proximity to active warfare, he maintained an avid interest in medicine - and could always quote from recent journals to the delight and edification of his colleagues. He was the authoritative source of information about unusual diseases with which his fellow medical officers were unfamiliar. With dedication and compassion, he would stay up all night with critically ill soldiers when nurses were scarce or unavailable. Because of his fat, round face and clear complexion he was often known as ‘Baby-faced Johnnie’.

Following discharge from the Army he joined the medical department of the Winnipeg Clinic, but shortly afterwards left to take up a fellowship in the department of pharmacology at Yale University. On his return to Winnipeg in 1948 he became a research fellow of the Medical Council of Canada and pursued his interests in endocrinology and metabolism. The following year he was appointed one of the first full-time members of the department of medicine. In 1964, on the retirement of his friend and preceptor Lennox Gordon Bell [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.39], Gemmell became professor and head of the department of medicine, University of Manitoba, and physician in chief of the Winnipeg General Hospital (which became the Health Sciences Centre in 1974). During these years the department experienced rapid growth and he was active in recruiting new faculty members. He had an unusual talent for keeping in touch with young physicians while they were away doing postgraduate studies, and he served as mentor and friend to them during their years of training.

With his research interests, John Gemmell early became a member of the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation and served as a member of council and as secretary for several years. He also served as a member of council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and for many years was a member of the committee on examinations and the committee on scientific meetings. He was an examiner for the College, and took great interest in the development and progress of young physicians. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians, and was governor for the Prairie Provinces, 1976-79.

Always a prolific reader, he was not a productive writer although he was author of 11 papers.

John married Nancy Mathers, daughter of a lawyer and herself a doctor, in 1948, and they had two daughters and a son who became a lawyer. Rather late in life this marriage ended in divorce. He later married Patricia Beaufoy who survived him.

John Gemmell lived a good and fruitful life and will long be remembed by his friends and colleagues, by grateful patients, and perhaps particularly as an outstanding teacher by his students - who are now to be found all over the world.

RE Beamish
CB Schoemperlen

(Volume VIII, page 181)

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