McMaster is stronger thanks to Bill Walsh

Lo­cal physi­cian’s ded­i­ca­tion, diplo­macy helped make Hamil­ton’s med­i­cal school unique

The Hamilton Spectator - - COM­MENT - DR. JOHN G. KEL­TON AND DR. PAUL O’BYRNE Dr. John G. Kel­ton is the dean emer­i­tus of the Michael G. DeG­roote School of Medicine and the dean and vice-pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Fac­ulty of Health Sci­ences at McMaster Univer­sity. He held those po­si­tions from

When the McMaster Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­tre was dropped like a gi­ant grey anvil on top of West­dale’s beloved Sunken Gar­den, Bill Walsh picked up the pieces and mended the fences. This was in the 1960s — hal­cyon days for Hamil­ton. The city was bustling, vi­brant and full of en­ergy. Hamil­ton was a man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­house pro­duc­ing ev­ery­thing from steel to candy.

McMaster had just cel­e­brated its 35th an­niver­sary in Hamil­ton and the univer­sity was as brash as its home­town. Pres­i­dent Harry Thode had great am­bi­tion for his school and the city, and he be­lieved a med­i­cal school would help put Hamil­ton and McMaster on the in­ter­na­tional stage. That would only hap­pen, of course, if the med­i­cal school was dif­fer­ent enough to com­ple­ment McMaster’s grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion for in­no­va­tion.

Dr. John Evans was se­lected to lead the med­i­cal school. His first re­cruit was Dr. Bill Walsh. Bill was born in Hamil­ton, the great­grand­son of an Ir­ish­man who came to Canada to es­cape the Great Famine of 1850. Bill went to West­dale Sec­ondary School, and then com­pleted his med­i­cal de­gree at West­ern Univer­sity be­fore be­com­ing a spe­cial­ist in in­ter­nal medicine. Bill also had the diplo­matic bal­ance of a tightrope walker. He was ex­actly what McMaster needed.

Bill was wise and widely trusted by Hamil­ton’s cit­i­zens and the lo­cal physi­cians who would teach in this new school. Bill was ne­go­tia­tor of great in­tegrity — a bull­dog who still helped all sides find vic­tory. He had wit and charm. He was Cary Grant-hand­some, charis­matic and dash­ing. He drew peo­ple to him and he built bridges. He was a diplo­mat.

Long rec­og­nized as an ex­cel­lent physi­cian, Bill quickly be­came an aca­demic vi­sion­ary. Work­ing with John Evans, Bill Spauld­ing, Fraser Mus­tard and oth­ers, he was part of the key team that de­voted it­self to mak­ing the McMaster School of Medicine com­pletely dif­fer­ent. If all other schools took four years to com­plete med­i­cal train­ing, McMaster would do it in three. No gi­ant lec­ture halls, in­stead, early en­gage­ment with pa­tients.

McMaster would wel­come stu­dents from all aca­demic back­grounds, not just sci­ence … and there, the team hit a snag. In those years, the med­i­cal school reg­u­la­tor was the On­tario Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons which op­posed the ad­mis­sion of non-sci­ence stu­dents. Bill Walsh, ever the bridge builder, be­came McMaster’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the col­lege, and shortly, its pres­i­dent. Soon, McMaster was able to ad­mit stu­dents from a range of aca­demic dis­ci­plines.

Bill Walsh loved ev­ery­thing about life, par­tic­u­larly his fam­ily and friends. His friends spanned peo­ple from neigh­bour­hoods across the city. But he also knew prom­i­nent Hamil­to­ni­ans like Michael G. DeG­roote, Joe Peller, Bill Gold­berg, Ross Craig and many oth­ers. But most of all, Bill was de­voted to his fam­ily: his wife Peggy, daugh­ter Al­lyn, sons James and Robert, his five grand­chil­dren and one great-grand­child.

Sports and mu­sic also played im­por­tant roles in his life. Be­fore jog­ging be­came com­mon­place, Bill Walsh ran. He ran and he ran, of­ten with one of his beloved dogs. At the time, his be­hav­iour was so un­usual that he and his jog­ging com­pan­ion, Mag­gie the dog, had their pic­ture in a lo­cal pa­per. Dur­ing his med­i­cal school days, a mis­di­ag­nosed case of ap­pen­dici­tis had pre­vented him from mak­ing a run at the Olympics and al­most ended his life. He might have missed a shot at a medal, but the ex­pe­ri­ence taught him the vi­tal im­por­tance of be­ing a metic­u­lous doc­tor. Bill was proud of a pa­per that he pub­lished in the Cana­dian Vet­eri­nary Jour­nal where he au­thor­i­ta­tively made the case that, like physi­cians, vet­eri­nar­i­ans should spe­cial­ize. When asked about his vet­eri­nary cre­den­tials, he would men­tion Mag­gie, Paddy, Tuffy and the other ca­nine friends that fol­lowed.

Bill was quick to try any­thing. In his 60s, when wind­surf­ing came to Canada, he hap­pily skimmed across the scal­loped sur­face of Hamil­ton Har­bour. He even tried box­ing. The day he en­tered the ring to face the Cana­dian mid­dle weight cham­pion led to a story as brief as the bout: “I re­call en­ter­ing the ring, and then slowly com­ing back to con­scious­ness.”

Through­out his many ad­ven­tures, Bill Walsh re­mained a re­mark­ably kind, car­ing and per­haps above all, knowl­edge­able physi­cian. He was the doc­tor that many of our city’s physi­cians went to see when they needed med­i­cal help. He was, lit­er­ally, a doc­tor’s doc­tor. The man who ad­vised McMaster’s first dean of medicine con­tin­ued to pro­vide wis­dom to John Evans’s suc­ces­sors — us in­cluded — for four decades. We can at­test that the bril­liance of his per­spec­tive, in­sight and ad­vice was undi­min­ished to the end.

Bill Walsh died last month at age 92. He will be missed.


Bill Walsh, back row cen­tre, helped es­tab­lish McMaster’s med­i­cal school. He is pic­tured with his grand­son Si­mon Oczkowski, fore­ground, at his grad­u­a­tion from med­i­cal school in 2009 where he be­came the third-gen­er­a­tion doc­tor in his fam­ily.

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