Lives of the fellows

Robert Laidlaw Macmillan

b.23 May 1917 d.5 September 2007
BA Toronto(1938) MD(1941) FRCPC FACP FRCP(1979)

Robert Laidlaw MacMillan was professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada, and co-founder of the world’s first coronary care unit, at Toronto General Hospital. He was born in Toronto during the First World War, the son of Robert Johnson MacMillan, a physician, and Merle MacMillan née Laidlaw, a nurse. When Robert was around 13, the family spent a year in Europe while his father completed his medical training. With his siblings attended a Swiss lycée and learnt to ski and speak French. When the family returned to Canada, Robert and his brother Hugh were enrolled at the University of Toronto Schools, an elite private school. Robert went on to Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where he gained a degree in biological and medical sciences in 1938 and an MD in 1941.

In 1942 he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and was posted on HMCS Prince Robert. He remained on the ship for the rest of the Second World War: for much of the conflict she was the Navy’s largest and most heavily armed vessel.

At the end of the war in the Pacific, Robert MacMillan was demobilised and continued his studies in the UK, in London and Oxford. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1947.

In 1948 he returned to Canada, initially as a senior intern in haematology at Toronto General Hospital, and then as a cardiologist. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada in the same year. He was made an assistant professor in 1965, then an associate professor and senior staff physician in 1968. In 1976 he became professor of medicine and head of the division of general internal medicine at Toronto General Hospital.

His initial research work was on blood clotting and platelets. In the early 1960s, with his colleague Kenneth Brown, he decided to isolate and closely observe cardiac patients to try to determine the cause of the high mortality rates in supposedly recovering patients. With funding from government research grants and a private donor, in March 1962 the world’s first cardiac care unit was opened in a small four-bedded room provided by the hospital. Here patients were attached to electro-cardiogram machines and closely monitored. After a year, the death rate had fallen by 10 per cent. MacMillan and Brown wrote about the unit in an article in The Lancet (‘Coronary unit: an intensive-care centre for acute myocardial infarction’ Lancet. 1963 Aug 17;2[7303]:349-52).

Outside medicine, he enjoyed canoeing, mountain climbing, scuba diving, hiking, camping, playing tennis and skiing. He and his wife also had a farm in Vaughan, Ontario.

In February 1942 he married Eluned (‘Lyn’) Carey Evans, the daughter of Sir Thomas Carey Evans, a surgeon, and the granddaughter of the politician David Lloyd-George. They had five children, Margaret, Ann, Thomas, Robert and David, and 12 grandchildren.

RCP editor

[The Globe and Mail 14 September 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List