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Hugh G. Thomson, MD, MSc, FRCSC
1930 - 2012

It is with sadness that we announce the death of Hugh G. Thomson, MD, MSc, FRCSC, Professor Emeritus, Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, the Hospital for Sick Children after a brief illness. Dr. Thomson was 82 years old.

Dr. Thomson received his MD degree from the University of Toronto in 1954 and completed his training in Plastic Surgery in the Gallie Programme at the University of Toronto in 1960 before doing a preceptorship under the supervision of Dr. Hoyle Campbell in 1961. He commenced his position at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1961, became a full Professor in 1982 and remained in active practice until 2000. During his academic career, he gave over 140 presentations and invited lectures and published 102 peer reviewed publications and book chapters.

I had the privilege of being one of the speakers at Dr Thomson’s funeral and would like to share with you the words I used to describe Dr Thomson.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be asked to speak to you today in celebration of the life of Dr T. - Dr T. because all of us at Sick Kids knew him by that name and to call him anything else just wouldn’t be right.

Dr T. was a role model for Plastic Surgery in all spheres. As a teacher and educator his impact on the Plastic Surgery community during his many years at the Hospital for Sick Children cannot be overstated. His gentlemanly style of praise would stimulate the fellows and residents to give their best performance and he would never miss an opportunity to publicly acknowledge those he felt were deserving.

In the operating room, he was a wizard. The nuances of his surgical techniques such as being able to flip the direction of a needle sitting on its driver with a single move, to the way that he negotiated around the operating room on his tractor seat stool endeared him to all of us who worked with him. The turn of his head would always be associated with a rattle of his wedding ring against the arm of his glasses, placed there for safe-keeping during the operation. Engagement and polite inquiry were his style of teaching in the operating room and clinic.

As an innovator, his skills and creativity transcended his clinical work to the public arena. A strong advocate for children and their parents, he was already campaigning for prevention at a time when it was just starting to become popular. The ‘Cool your Coals Campaign’ to prevent campfire burns typified this.

Dr T. was a tremendous contributor to the fabric of Pediatric Plastic Surgery. He recognized artistry and continually reinforced the importance of drawing sketches of the operative procedure as part of the operative note. This artistry extended well beyond the operating room and his skills as a wood carver were legendary. As a continuing commitment to Plastic Surgery, he provided the annual Visiting Professor with a wood carving that was highly individual and representative of the attendee.

Dr T. contributed significantly to the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons. He served as its President in 1980 and was instrumental in the development of the ‘Resident’s Corner’ which, for most people in attendance, is the focal point of the meeting. In addition to creating the Society logo, he should also be recognized for establishing the ‘Beyond the Knife’ segment of the Annual Meeting where members provide insights into the activities they enjoy in their leisure time. He was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society in Kelowna in 2009.

But I cannot let this moment pass without telling you a little more about Dr T. the character. We loved him for the way he spoke - whether speaking of ‘my bride’, the only way he ever referred to Judy, or ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ when doing a little more in the operating room might just spoil the whole undertaking. Another expression that requires no gloss was that ‘he (or she) is half a bubble out of plum’. On the other hand, when he talked to families who didn’t speak English very well he would simply raise his voice and his hands - somehow hoping this would help them to understand better.

Dr T. never rushed patient appointments and would truly be interested in what was going on in their lives, sometimes offering more than just surgical advice. This would put him behind schedule but he would simply say ‘There’s always room for one more on the bus.’ even though we were already riding on the rims.

Dr T. came from a different age - now long gone. In the days when I was a resident, for example, I can remember Dr T. making rounds either with his cigarette puffing or with his young children in tow.

Even after retirement, Dr T. remained a fixture at our annual picnic for burn survivors. He manned a wood carving booth where the kids could assemble, paint, decorate and display their work. He had spent an enormous amount of time preparing the basic carving materials in advance of the day. More than once at the picnic he was mistaken for Willie Nelson by a parent who hadn’t met him before - his bandana tied around his head working furiously with the kids.

Dr T. was a wonderfully human individual who would always say ‘thank you’ to the operating room staff or the clinic nurses and his secretary at the end of the day. Now it is our turn to say ‘thank you‘ to Dr T.”

Howard M. Clarke, M.D.

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