Lives of the fellows

David Edward Rodger

b.10 September 1910 d.9 January 2013
MD McGill CM FRCP(1971)

David Rodger was a consultant physician in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Born and raised in the light industrial town of Amherst, Nova Scotia, into a middle class family, his father, Norman Clarence Rodger, was a businessman. His mother was Harriet Thompson Rodger née McLennan. If his mother is to be believed, David’s first words from his crib were, ‘I want to be a doctor’, and he never swerved from that goal, doing his pre-medical studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and his MD at McGill University in Montreal. He then spent a year touring the world as a ship’s doctor, before returning to Canada to marry Allison Pattillo, whom he had met while she was studying nursing at Montreal General Hospital.

The couple set off immediately for London, where David completed his specialty training in internal medicine at University College London. Within months, they had fallen in love with England, and David decided to make a life there. He was briefly a medical officer at Fulham Hospital in London, and then took a position as one of the first physicians in the then new town of Welwyn Garden City.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he confirmed his commitment to the UK by joining the British Royal Army Medical Corps rather than the Canadian one, and served in Iceland, West Africa and India. He returned to Britain in 1946 and was demobilised with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was 35, had a wife and two young children, and no capital. The prospects for Britain looked bleak, not just economically, but also, in his view, politically, with the National Health Service looming. He decided to return to Canada, and took advantage of an offer of free passage for him and his family on a merchant ship.

Arriving in Canada, he discovered to his dismay that he would be at the back of the queue for doctors returning from military service and seeking a placement. He had after all served in the British Army, not the Canadian one. He eventually took an offer to become one of the founders of the Medical Arts Clinic in Regina, Saskatchewan. Although Regina was in the middle of the vast and forbidding Canadian plains, David dug in, prospered and found much to enjoy in that uncrowded country, especially shooting and fishing. He practised internal medicine there for more than 40 years, and became a pillar of the medical profession in western Canada.

He was head of the department of medicine at Regina General Hospital for several years, visiting consultant at the college of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and an examiner in medicine at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Medical Council of Canada. His medical interests were wide. He co-wrote a book on arthritis and rheumatism in 1952 (Arthritis and rheumatism: the patient’s guide to treatment Regina, Saskatchewan, Commercial Printers) and wrote papers for the Canadian Medical Association Journal on colitis (‘Challenge of colitis’ Can Med Assoc J. 1948 Feb; 58[2]:153-6) and obesity (‘The management of obesity’ Can Med Assoc J. 1950 Sep; 63[3]: 265-9).

His principles were also strong. He had an unshakeable belief that a doctor had a responsibility to provide the best care to anyone who needed it, regardless of cost, and that no one and no government should interfere with a doctor’s judgments. On 1 July 1962, he found himself in Saskatchewan, joining a strike by some 90 per cent of the doctors there in protest against the introduction of the first universal medical care system in Canada. The government of the province brought in doctors from Britain, the United States and other provinces to staff community clinics. On 11 July a rally in support of the doctors in front of the provincial legislature in Regina attracted only about 4,000 people, a tenth of the number hoped for by the organisers. By mid-July some of the striking doctors had returned to work. Lord Stephen Taylor [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.500], a British physician who had helped implement the National Health Service, was brought in as a mediator and the Saskatoon Agreement ending the strike was signed on 23 July 1962.

Despite his disappointment with the spread of ‘socialised medicine’, David Rodger continued to practise in Regina for another 30 years, retiring to Victoria, British Columbia in 1991.

Apart from medicine, he had many passions, especially for nature and outdoor sports. He relished sharing his love of fly-fishing, hunting, golf and skiing with friends and family, infecting and exhausting everyone with his enthusiasm. In later years, he returned with predictable rigour to more cerebral pursuits – music, literature, world affairs and scientific study, his mind remaining extraordinarily active to the end. He was a committed member and supporter of many organisations, including Rotary, the Winston Churchill Society, Probus, Ducks Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. He returned frequently to London to attend seminars at the Royal College of Physicians, and loved being lionised there as the only attendee in his nineties.

David Rodger died at 102, predeceased by Allison in 1953 and by his second wife, Winnifred Bonnor, in 1991. Longevity was in his genes. His parents lived to their 90s, his older brother also lived to 102, and his younger brother died at 99. He was survived by four sons and one daughter, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Ian Rodger

[Speers Funeral and Cremation Services Obituary of Dr David Rodger – accessed 2 May 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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