Lives of the fellows

Orlando Harold Warwick

b.20 May 1915 d.21 October 2009
CM(1990) BA Mount Allison(1935) BA Oxon(1938) MD CM McGill(1940) MRCP(1947) FACP(1957) Hon LLD Mount Allison(1965) FRCPC(1968) FRCP(1970) Hon LLD Western Ontario(1977)

Orlando Harold Warwick, known as ‘Harold’, had a remarkable influence on Canadian medicine. He was a compassionate physician, pioneer medical oncologist, teacher, clinical investigator, executive director of the Canadian Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of Canada, and dean of medicine and vice-president at the University of Western Ontario. He performed all these roles with excellence, grace and equanimity. Harold had a great affection for Osler’s Aequanimitas and appeared to live by the great physician’s advice.

Harold was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of Orlando Henry Warwick, a merchant, and Nina Kathleen née Bulyea. His ancestor, John Warwick, immigrated to America in 1774 from Yorkshire and in later years the family settled in New Brunswick and became merchants in Saint John. Harold had an outstanding academic career. He earned a BA from Mount Allison University and graduated from the McGill Medical School as a gold medallist with an MD CM in 1940. He took time off from McGill to accept a Rhodes scholarship and study at Oxford. Hal’s youth was enriched by many sporting activities. He played basketball and later hockey for Oxford. His passion for fly fishing, especially for salmon, was nurtured during his youth and maintained well into his 90s. He was an avid golfer and was particularly proud of his two holes-in-one when he was 75 and 86 respectively.

After completion of an internship at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal in 1941, Harold immediately enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and shortly thereafter married his lifelong companion, Barbara Gzowski – a partnership that lasted 67 years. Barbara and Harold had four children (Wendy, Victoria, Glynn and Peter) and 25 grandchildren and great grandchildren. While in the Air Force, he first did research on high altitude flying and was later posted overseas as a medical officer.

Harold returned to civilian life in 1945 and began postgraduate training in internal medicine at McGill University. The following year he was awarded a Nuffield Dominion travelling fellowship, which took him to England for further training. He was aware of the important work on nitrogen mustard (developed from wartime research on mustard gas) in treating certain malignancies of the blood and lymphatic system and the benefits of hormone manipulation in patients with cancer of the prostate and breast. Harold wanted to learn more about this newly developing field: the medical treatment of cancer. In his autobiography he records, “I was convinced that these new methods of treatment, though still in their infancy, would one day take their place alongside surgery and radiation in the treatment of cancer.”

Warwick studied at the Royal Cancer Hospital and the Brompton Chest Hospital in London, where he carried out and published the first clinical trial of a chemotherapeutic agent (nitrogen mustard) in adults with solid (non-blood and lymphatic) tumours. He was well on his way to becoming a medical oncologist, although the term had not yet been coined. Harold returned to Montreal in 1947, where he was a member of the department of medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University.

In 1948, Warwick was persuaded to move from Montreal to Toronto, to become the first executive director to simultaneously serve the Canadian Cancer Society and the newly-formed National Cancer Institute of Canada. Warwick had an important influence on the development of the Institute and played a central role in charting the course for future cancer research in Canada. At the same time, he became a member of the department of Medicine at the Toronto General Hospital, where he cared for patients, carried out clinical studies on cancer patients and taught undergraduate and postgraduate medical students.

In 1955 Harold left the Canadian Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of Canada and became a full-time physician at the Ontario Radiotherapy Institute in the Toronto General Hospital. In 1958 the new Princess Margaret Hospital opened in Toronto; he became chief physician, responsible for developing clinical drug trials of anticancer agents.

During his years at the Toronto General, the Radiotherapy Institute and the Princess Margaret Hospital, Warwick treated and studied hundreds of patients with cancer, spoke and wrote about treatment with hormones and chemotherapy agents, and published a number of papers on clinical drug trials. The most important of these established the value of the vinca alkaloid, vinblastine sulphate, particularly in patients with Hodgkin’s disease. As a complete practitioner of cancer medicine Warwick had been a ‘medical oncologist’, undoubtedly the first in Canada, for many years before the specialty was accepted and named.

Harold’s clinical work again came to an abrupt halt when he was persuaded to become dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, (from 1961 to 1965) and then vice-president of health sciences (from 1965 to 1972). He played a central, and at times difficult, leadership role in moving the medical school across the city to a new site on the university campus. Ultimately it became part of the same complex as the newly built university hospital, the dental and nursing schools – a unified health sciences centre.

In 1972 he retired from his university administrative responsibilities, took a sabbatical year to re-hone his clinical skills, and then worked as a medical oncologist at the London (Ontario) Regional Cancer Centre. He retired from practice in 1980. It is noteworthy that Harold’s career started and ended with “doing what I like best, caring for sick people”.

Harold had an active and rewarding retirement. He and his wife continued to live in London, Ontario. He fished, played golf, wrote an historical novel and an autobiography. He received, with typical humility and grace, his second honorary degree and became a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1993, the National Cancer Institute of Canada further honoured Warwick by establishing the O Harold Warwick prize for excellence in cancer research, awarded each year to a prominent Canadian cancer researcher.

Harold Warwick is remembered for his wide and varied accomplishments, but also for his warmth, friendliness and modesty and his dedication to his wife and family. He died peacefully in London, Ontario, in his 95th year.

Donald H Cowan

[Western News (The University of Western Ontario) 29 October 2009]

(Volume XII, page web)

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