Lives of the fellows

Walter Ford Connell

b.24 August 1906 d.8 October 1998
MD Queen's(1929) MRCP(1932) FRCP(1958) LLD Queen's(1973) FRCPC FACP

Walter Ford Connell was professor of medicine at Queen's University, Kingston, and director of the heart department at Kingston General Hospital, Ontario, Canada. The Connells were of Irish-English-French origin, Huegenots who fled to England after the St Bartholomews' massacre of 1572, then moved on to Skibbereen, County Cork, as part of Oliver Cromwell's policy to settle Protestants in Ireland. Two centuries later, many migrated to the New World, including John Connell, who had a homestead on a bleak farm in eastern Ontario. A Canadian Connell dynasty was thus founded. Walter Thomas ('W T'), a grandson of John Connell, graduated in medicine from Queen's University, Kingston, became a professor of pathology, and was a founder member of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Ford Connell, the son of 'W T', followed in his father's footsteps, graduating with honours from Queen's, with the gold medal in both medicine and surgery in 1929.

Deciding on a future in clinical medicine, Connell spent the next two years at the Toronto General Hospital, under the tutelage of Duncan Graham [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, 204], John Orr [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, 364], John Hepburn and others. There he met his future wife, Merle Bruce, night supervisor of nursing in the emergency department. Having earned a fellowship award for overseas study, Connell proceeded first to Freiburg in Germany for a year to do pathological research, he then went to the Manchester Royal Infirmary as junior registrar in medicine for a year, during which time he sat and passed the membership examination on his first try. To round off his stay in England, Connell spent a further year at the National Heart and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London.

On returning to Queen's in 1935, Ford joined his father, 'W T', William Gibson, E C D MacCallum and others in the department of medicine. 'Dr Ford', as he was now called to distinguish him from his father, bought the Kingston General Hospital's first portable electrocardiograph (patients previously had to go to the physiology laboratory in the Medical School for an ECG) and established the division of cardiology. This marked the beginning of Ford Connell's long and distinguished career in academic medicine as a gifted clinical teacher of two generations of medical students and a long line of devoted residents. The headship of medical department had been vacant since 1938, so in 1942 the medical students rose up en masse to demand that Dr Ford be brought back from the RCAMC to be the professor and head, and thus play a major role in the now accelerated MD programme during the Second World War. In 1943, Connell was a leader in convincing the university to admit women into medicine, a policy decision made more than 50 years before.

A one-time chief resident (senior registrar) in medicine describes Ford Connell as a "hurricane with his lab coat tails streaming straight out behind him, always several yards ahead of his entourage, making his twice daily rounds". Besides hospital and clinic duties, a resident was required to drive Connell around eastern Ontario, when called to consult on cardiac cases, and carry the portable ECG machine. The 'chief' himself would sometimes take the opportunity for a short nap in the back seat. Connell's clinical and consulting practice competed heavily with his research interests in lipid metabolism, although he was one of the earliest interested in blood cholesterol and the relationship to coronary and carotid artery disease. By the early 1950s Connell had built up the department of medicine to provide for teaching, research and patient care in all the tertiary subspecialties. The new wing of the Kingston General Hospital was opened in 1960 and named the 'Walter T Connell' wing, in memory of Ford's father. In 1987 Connell was honoured as a 'local medical legend' by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. He retired in 1968 as emeritus professor and was awarded an honorary LLD by his alma mater in 1973.

Fred Connell died suddenly while reading the morning newspaper at home in Providence Manor, Kingston, Canada. A great fan and supporter of his Queen's University football team, he had attended a game and actively participated in the annual alumni festivities just a week before. Connell was predeceased by his wife, and is survived by his daughter, Patricia, sons Bruce and Douglas, and several grandchildren.

Stuart L Vandewater

(Volume XI, page 120)

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