Lives of the fellows

John Gerard Howlett

b.8 December 1904 d.19 August 1993
MD CM McGill(1933) MSc(1937) MRCP(1944) FRCPC(1945) FACP(1955) FRCP(1970)

John Howlett’s long career at McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada, was characterized by his deep social conscience. He was a member of a large family whose origins were at the very grounding of Canada, Newfoundland, and the province of Quebec. He was born in St John’s, Newfoundland, and was educated within the Roman Catholic school system, going on to McGill University to study medicine, qualifying in 1933. He went on to postgraduate training at the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he served two years of what was at that time a mandatory internship, followed by a year as an assistant resident (equivalent to a junior registrar). Because of his outstanding clinical abilities he was made the chief resident in medicine. He spent an additional year training to carry out research at the McGill University Clinic, a new research unit created by one of his principal mentors, Jonathan C Meakins [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.278], then physician-in-chief at the Royal Victoria Hospital. This led to a master of science degree in experimental medicine. He then began his career as a practicing clinician and academic based at the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University. His decision to explore his research skills was due to the influence of a number of distinguished members of international medicine and particularly North American medicine. These included J C Meakins, J S L Browne, Edwin B Astwood and Rolf Luft of Sweden. It became clear to John Howlett while at the McGill University Clinic that his primary love in medicine was caring for patients and teaching.

Following his first appointment in 1938 he was to serve a total of 55 years at McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital. This long period of service was interrupted on only two occasions; the first was during the Second World War when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a flying officer in 1941 and was discharged as a wing commander in the latter part of 1945. At that time he was serving in the headquarters of the RCAF in London. The second was a period as a visiting professor to University College Hospital, London, at a time when McGill University and the University College Hospital Medical School had a regular exchange programme. He became an emeritus in 1979, but continued his office practice until 1988.

In 1974, in response to the inferior nursing homes in the province of Quebec, he founded and acted as president of the board and medical director of a private nursing home called Pierrefonds Manor. In addition, he became exceedingly interested in the issues of drug and alcohol dependency and in 1970, together with a number of his non-medical friends, founded the Portage Program for Drug Dependencies. He was a medical consultant to this innovative programme until his death and had been named as an honorary graduate and physician emeritus of that programme. The idea of the programme has spread internationally and one of John Howlett’s sons has recently received an international award for the contributions of the Howletts to this programme. His social conscience was interlaced with his deep religious conviction and his faithful and ongoing commitment to the Roman Catholic Church.

He married Alphonsine Therese Paré in 1940. He was one of those English speaking people who, through marriage, forge a life long relationship with a distinguished francophone family and this crossing of the ‘two solitudes’ has typified not only John Howlett’s career but also the many offspring which came from this union.

John C Beck

(Volume X, page 237)

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