Lives of the fellows

Keith John Roy Wightman

b.12 May 1914 d.10 March 1978
MD Toronto(1937) FRCPC(1942) FRCP*(1974) Hon DSc Newfound(1974) Hon LLD Toronto(1976)

Keith Wightman, ‘Kajer’ as he was generally known, was born in Sandwich, Ontario, grew up in Peterborough, and lived most of his adult life in Toronto. His father, Keith St Clair Wightman, son of a sea captain of the Great Lakes, was a teacher and a distinguished educator who became director of education for the city of Peterborough. His mother Mary Elizabeth Stinson, who descended from the Earl of Warwick, wrote for the Atlantic Monthly Magazine; she died while Kajer was overseas. Kajer was a sensitive boy; when he cut his hand rather badly while playing, he waited for his father and mother to waken from their afternoon sleep before asking their help in stopping the blood and bandaging his hand.

In high school he was a brilliant student and was editor of the school paper. He graduated at the age of 15 and so had to wait for a year before going to university. He took his Bachelor of Education degree from Queen’s University, Kingston, and then went into medicine at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1937 with a gold medal, Ellen Mickle fellowship, and the admiration of all his classmates. He was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha, Honour Medical Society, and years later was its counsellor. The Ellen Mickle fellowship gave him a year of study with Sir Alan Drury in Cambridge, and throughout his life he visited Cambridge and Sir Alan as frequently as he could. He returned to the Toronto General Hospital and served as junior intern and then as senior intern and fellow. He finished his postgraduate training in 1942, enlisted in the army and served with No 12 Canadian General Hospital. In 1946 he was recalled from the casualty clearing station at Bruges by the University, and discharged from the army with the rank of major.

Wightman had passed his examination for fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of Canada in 1942 and was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1974. He joined the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto in 1946, and over the next 25 years occupied a series of increasingly important positions in the department of medicine. In 1953 he was named head of the department of therapeutics and in 1960 became the Sir John and Lady Eaton professor of medicine, a position he held until 1970. During this period he was very active not only in undergraduate teaching but also in graduate teaching, and had the fun of working with a large number of residents and fellows who formed the Wightman Club. Most of them have continued in the academic field. This was a period of great expansion of the University. There was money, there was consistent enthusiastic support from the deans, John Hamilton and Lawrie Chute. Three hospitals were added to the group of University hospitals, Women’s College Hospital, Mount Sinai, and Sunnybrook. As head of the University department of medicine, Wightman felt responsible for building up the staffs and facilities in all the teaching hospitals. His support was greatly appreciated by the chiefs of the various units, and there was a great feeling of unity within the department of medicine. During his period as professor of medicine he was also physician-in-chief of the Toronto General Hospital, where he helped it to understand its role as a University teaching hospital. Upon completion of his term as department chairman, Wightman became associate dean and director of the division of postgraduate medical education of the faculty of medicine. In 1974 Wightman took on his final responsibility, that of medical director of the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation, a position which he held until his death.

From the time Kajer was a student, his life and contributions were intimately associated with the life of the University of Toronto. The University recognized this in 1976 by conferring on him the honorary degree of LLD.

In addition to his responsibilities at the University of Toronto, Wightman was a major force in Canadian medicine. He played a key role in the development of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Therapeutics, the Canadian Society for Chemotherapy and the Hepatic Foundation of Canada. In fact there were few organizations in the health field in Canada during this period which did not benefit from his support and encouragement.

For many years Wightman was active in the affairs of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and served on several committees. He was a member of council, and on the executive and finally president 1974-1976. He played an important part in building up the Royal College and setting up the subdivisions of medicine within the College.

One of his special interests was the Gairdner Foundation. He was chairman of the medical advisory committee and president of the board for many years, and was instrumental in developing the Gairdner awards, which are now so highly prized among medical scientists around the world. In 1976 the Gairdner Foundation set up a special award for the Canadian who had made the greatest contribution to medical science; it is called the Wightman award and it was appropriate that Kajer should be the first recipient.

Among all his accomplishments perhaps none was greater than the impact he made upon his students and his house staff officers. He was the perfect teacher. He did not goad them with sarcasm nor embarrass them with his brilliance, but he challenged them with his example, supported them with understanding and encouraged them with consistent interest and friendship. One reason why Kajer was such an excellent medical teacher was because he was a superb physician. At the bedside he demonstrated repeatedly the excellence of his clinical skills, and showed an intuitive awareness of the importance of psychological factors in illness.

Kajer enjoyed life, he was happy to see so many of the projects he was working with grow and make significant contributions to Canadian medicine. He was slow to take credit for himself, quick to praise, and quick to encourage.

Kajer recognized that one cannot keep up one’s own resources and enthusiasm unless one takes time away from responsibility to think and study. It was because of his philosophy of sabbatical leave, shared with his colleagues, that when he retired as professor of medicine, the Wightman fund was established for the support of staff who might feel the need of sabbatical leave. Although the fund was to honour Kajer, he himself supported it generously and it became the Lois and Kajer fund. It was chosen by his family as one of his interests that could be supported by his friends to honour him.

In August 1941, while still a medical resident, Kajer married Lois, whose father, Albert Francis Hawke, a Grimsby merchant, was the son of a Methodist minister who came from England. It was Lois and the three children, Carolyn, Pamela and Peter, who provided the answer to the question of how one person was able to have so many interests and be involved in so many activities, all at the same time. Lois was his manager, accountant, social secretary and charming companion, active in the hospital Women’s Auxiliary, and she shared most of his interests and activities and provided some of his brightest ideas.

By all their friends they were recognized as the Lois and Kajer team, reflecting how closely they worked together. She also shared his nonmedical interests, music, their cabin in the country, and their church. Kajer was consultant to the Diocese of the Arctic. ‘His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘ ‘This was a man’ ’ ’.

IM Hilliard

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

(Volume VII, page 601)

<< Back to List