H. Bruce Williams, M.D.
1929 - 2017
Dr. H. Bruce Williams passed away surrounded this year after a short illness but after many years of great health and a very rich scientific and family life. Funerals were held in Montreal at the Church of St-Andrews and St-Paul across the Museum of Fine Arts. He was 87 years old.
Dr. Williams’s was born in a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada, in a beautiful section of the country called “the Maritimes” in Eastern Canada. He attended a one-room schoolhouse, which is now a Nova Scotia heritage site and according to the archives was once visited by young Queen Elizabeth II at the time visiting Canada as a Commonwealth country. The key element in this one-room classroom was that the students were exposed to several degrees of teaching levels in this old-style set-up. Bruce shared with me that very quickly he helped the teacher with the lower grade students while still being a student in another grade himself. We can guess that his “great teaching skills” expressed themselves very early on in his first years of schooling encouraged early on to teach because of a unique and old simple school system in a small town.
He then went to Acadia University and subsequently got accepted at McGill in Medicine. He did well and was accepted into the McGill Plastic Surgery residency program under Dr. Woolhouse, a prominent Plastic Surgeon of the time and Chief at McGill. Bruce continued on a European Fellowship and visited several famous plastic surgeons of the time in England, Sweden (Dr. Skoog), France and Russia while on the McGill University Canadian McLaughin Fellowship.
Dr. Williams’s passion in plastic surgery drove him towards the then new field of microsurgery and as a microsurgeon. He quickly became a world known figure for his work on peripheral nerve microsurgery with his research done at the Montreal General Hospital. Dr. Williams was also involved in the International Microsurgery Society and the Peripheral Nerve Society.
One of his projects for several years was with the Medtronic pacemaker company using this concept to stimulate muscle during major nerve palsy recovery post repair/grafting (trauma etc) to keep a good volume and future function of the facial muscles or of the forearm. This made it into successful clinical studies after basic animal research but unfortunately for such a small group of patients, it could not be kept available at the Industry level.
As a medical/surgical contributor, he was invited to be a guest speaker/panelist and visiting professors 100 times, became involved at one point in the leadership of most plastic surgery organization as previously mentioned President of the ASPS in 1990 and published around 100 papers and chapters. He also was involved in the leadership of the ASPS, AAPS, PSRC, and the Canadian Plastic Surgery organizations as well. He also wrote the by-laws of the merged peripheral nerve societies. He always stayed involved with the ACAPS, almost alone as a Canadian plastic surgeon participant with this nice group of academic surgeons which meant a lot to him. At home, he trained 2 to 3 residents per year for almost 60 years from all around the world, a total of over 100 and participated in teaching many more medical students.
In Canada, he became President of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons (CSPS), of the ASRM, the American Society for Peripheral Nerve and the International Microsurgical Society also hosting a great meeting in 1996 in Montreal at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. In 2003, Dr. Williams received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons.
In North America and internationally, Dr. Williams kept in touch with other colleagues in plastic surgery and always represented McGill at a very high level. To this day, he remains the only Canadian to have been appointed as President of the American Society of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery (ASPRS then) – quite an achievement.
Dr. Williams was in 34 medical societies through the course of his life and in addition was involved at the President for many including in the US, where he was President of the PSF in 1976-77 first and then became the first Canadian to be President of the ASPS in 1990. He earned several important awards: the PSF's Distinguished Service Award, the American Association of Plastic Surgeons Clinician of the Year Award, the Montreal General Hospital life-time achievement Award and the Montreal Children's Hospital Medical Award of Excellence.
At home at McGill, he continued his balanced pediatric and adult practice, several times hosting the American Hand Course on week-ends with great attendance; he was the host of the ASPS annual meeting in early October 1995.
Through his long career Dr. Williams received 21 awards from societies and colleagues and was honored in 2015 by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada and former Principal of McGill University as a Member to the Order of Canada. Dr. Williams was recognized for his contributions to the practice of plastic surgery, particularly for helping burn victims as well as young people with congenital abnormalities, cleft lip and cleft palate.
In addition to his great teaching skills, he showed great leadership locally at McGill. He was the Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery following Dr. Woolhouse for 20 years. He then followed this leadership position with another one as the Surgeon-in-Chief at our pediatric Montreal Children’s Hospital McGill University for 13 years. He took over in 1993 replacing another wonderful Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Tony Dobell – pediatric cardiac surgeon, his predecessor and colleague. He completed his term in 2007.
To his colleagues in and around North America as well as internationally, he will be greatly missed. His great sense of humor, his contributions and his kindness were a very special unique blend.
Lucie Lessard M.D.