Lives of the fellows

John Robert Evans

b.1 October 1929 d.13 February 2015
CC(1978) MD Toronto(1952) DPhil Oxon(1955) FRCPC(1958) FACP(1960) Hon LLD Dalhousie(1972) Hon LLD McMaster(1972) Hon LLD York(1972) Hon DSc Memorial University of Newfoundland(1973) Hon LLD Queen’s(1974) Hon LLD Wilfred Laurier University(1975) Hon LLD Yale(1978) Hon LHD Johns Hopkins(1978) FRCP(1980) Hon LLD Toronto(1980) Hon LLD Calgary(1996) Hon DSc Alberta(2005) Hon DSc Lakehead University(2009)

John Robert Evans was a Canadian cardiologist, academic and businessman. He enjoyed a full life, marked by contributions on many fronts. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the youngest of seven children of William Watson Evans, a barrister, and Mary Evans. His parents died when he was nine and he was raised by his older siblings. He was educated at the University of Toronto Schools, and the University of Toronto, where he studied medicine. He gained his MD in 1952 and was then a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.

He was a house officer at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford from 1952 to 1953 and then an honorary assistant registrar at the National Heart Hospital, London. In 1955 he returned to Canada, where he held registrar positions at the University of Toronto teaching hospitals.

From 1960 to 1961 he was a research fellow at Harvard. He then became an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine and also worked as a cardiologist at Toronto General Hospital.

In 1965 he became founding dean of McMaster University’s new medical school. At McMaster Evans created an entirely new model of medical education, introducing students to real patients from their first semester, rather than learning anatomy by rote. The ‘McMaster model’ was a great success and has been imitated around the world.

In 1972 he returned to Toronto, as the ninth president of the University of Toronto. Six years later, he ran for a seat as a Liberal in the Canadian House of Commons in a by-election, but was defeated.

He subsequently moved to the United States, to Washington DC, to set up the World Bank’s population, health and nutrition branch. Later he became the first Canadian to chair the Rockefeller Foundation.

In the 1990s he returned to Canada. He chaired Allelix, one of Canada’s first biotech companies, and took it public, and later chaired the Torstar media company and Alcan Aluminium. He was then asked by the prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, to establish the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and was afterwards tasked with setting up an innovation hub in Toronto, later known as ‘MaRS’.

Evans was a member of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians of Canada and the Royal Society of Canada. In 1978 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Throughout his career and his life, his greatest satisfaction came from caring for others as a clinician and mentoring colleagues in their careers.

He married Gay Glassco in 1954. They had four sons, Derek, Mark, Michael and Tim, and two daughters, Gill and Willa, and 23 grandchildren. John Robert Evans died after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Gillian Evans

[The Globe and Mail 13 February 2015 – accessed 16 April 2015; The Star 13 February 2015 – accessed 16 April 2015; MaRS John R Evans – accessed 16 April 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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