Lives of the fellows

Robert Francis Patrick Cronin

b.1 September 1926 d.13 January 2007
MD McGill(1953) MRCP(1955) FRCPC(1959) MSc(1960) FACP(1961) FRCP(1973) BA Princeton(2000)

Patrick Cronin was a former professor of medicine and dean of the faculty of medicine at McGill University, Montreal. Born in London, England, he was the second of three sons of the celebrated writer Archibald Joseph (A J) Cronin, a medical graduate of Glasgow University, and Agnes Mary Gibson, also a medical graduate of Glasgow. Patrick Cronin went to school as a boarder at Ampleforth at a time when his father’s writing career was flourishing. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, USA to escape the bombs and to be closer to Hollywood, which had already made successful film versions of several of A J Cronin’s novels. Patrick Cronin transferred as a boarder to Portsmouth Abbey School on Rhode Island, where he found himself promoted several grades to the extent that he was able to enrol for an arts degree at Princeton University in New Jersey in 1942. He left Princeton when the US entered the war in 1943 and moved to Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force, later transferring to the British Army between 1945 and 1947.

Because of the intervening war years, he had technically not completed his bachelor of arts degree at Princeton. He was informed by Dean Malkiel that “three courses, a thesis and a departmental comprehensive exam will satisfy the requirements”. Hence in 1999, at the age of 73, Patrick Cronin left his base in Switzerland to reside in off-campus accommodation in New Jersey while working on his Princeton degree. It took 52 years and 111 days to achieve his degree, which was conferred on 30 May 2000. At the time of his graduation he received the class trophy for being the last member of his class to graduate. The previous contender who had also gone off to the war had returned to finish his degree at the age of 45.

After the war, Patrick Cronin went on to McGill, where he obtained his medical degree in 1953. He met Shirley-Gian (‘Sis’) Robinson at a ski resort in the Laurentians, outside of Montreal. They married in 1954 and had three children, David, Diana and Daphne. Having acquired a first medical degree it might have seemed odd that Patrick Cronin chose the UK for further training. As the son of A J Cronin, the doctor who had centred his most famous work, The Citadel (London, Victor Gollancz, 1937), in London, it was understandable that Patrick Cronin would enjoy the prospect of further training in London. His assiduous manner and his sense of humour characterised his house officer days at Hammersmith and afterwards at the Brompton Chest Hospital. He had already acquired his membership of the College, an absolute necessity at the time for anyone seeking house physician appointments in prestigious London hospitals. At ward rounds in Hammersmith he used to describe one of his chiefs as pontifex maximus, because the particular chief was inclined to pontificate while clasping and unclasping his hands together as in prayer. Another chief, John, afterwards Sir John McMichael [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.371], remarked that he had to be careful in his language and attitude or he would find himself in one of Cronin’s books. Perhaps McMichael had in mind A J Cronin’s text, Adventures in Two Worlds (London, Victor Gollancz, 1952), generally regarded as an autobiography. Patrick Cronin’s association with McMichael continued through subsequent years. Later in his career as professor of medicine and dean of the faculty at McGill University, Patrick Cronin invited McMichael to Montreal and was responsible for the honorary doctorate that McGill University bestowed upon him.

Despite his specialty training in cardiology, Patrick Cronin was his best in the practice and teaching of internal medicine in its broadest sense and healthcare in general. But it will be in the ‘global village’ that Patrick Cronin will be best remembered. He worked with the Canadian International Development Agency in setting up student and graduate fellowship exchange programmes with developing countries. In 1976, His Highness the Aga Khan, hereditary and spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili sect, sought advice and consultancy with McGill in setting up a medical university in Karachi, Pakistan, with extensions to Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In recognition of his verve for organisation and leadership, Patrick Cronin was recruited by the Aga Khan to serve in an advisory capacity. A one-year contract to the Aga Khan Health Services became extended for the next 15 years, involving regular travel to Aga Khan University in Karachi and related health services in Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania.

A J Cronin died in 1981, leaving his three sons a property on the hillside at Montreux in Switzerland overlooking Lake Leman. Patrick and his two brothers, Vincent, also a celebrated writer, living in France, and Andrew, who was living in the US, shared their father’s legacy. Shortly afterwards Patrick Cronin took sabbatical leave and he and his wife moved into his parent’s home. He retired from McGill in 1984 and he and Sis ultimately decided to live in Montreux throughout most of the year, returning across to the US and Canada to be with their children during the winter. It was sometimes said that the father and son never enjoyed a close relationship. Nevertheless, Patrick Cronin, in enlarging the study of the house in Montreux collected together every item published by A J Cronin. In his maturing years Patrick Cronin took a great interest in the characters described in his father’s various books, noting his father’s “aversion to using real names in his memoirs whether they be ships, places or people”. He was able to recognise at least three distinguished physicians, all of them Fellows of the College, to whom A J Cronin had made reference.

Patrick Cronin’s life was dissipated after his daughter Daphne suffered a spinal injury while training for Canada’s equestrian team. Despite Daphne’s self-rehabilitation and independence of spirit and lifestyle, Patrick and Sis became more focused on being closer to Daphne by acquiring an apartment in Orlando, Florida, for their annual move during the winter.

In 2004 Patrick Cronin began to develop memory impairment, a sad change for someone who was quick-witted and so sharp in his sense of humour. His daughter, Daphne, noted a compromise in his ability to manage straightforward tasks. He began to deteriorate, slowly reaching the stage where he was not in a fit state of alertness to drive his car. His wife bravely took over control and arranged for carers to come to his house a couple of days a week to give her the respite she sorely needed. Unfortunately, his memory continued to slip further over the next few years, which his children and long-time friends found distressing. He died at the age of 80 in Montreux. He is survived by his wife, Sis, his son and two daughters, and five grandchildren.

Krishna Somers

(Volume XII, page web)

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