Second World War veteran, quintessential family man. Born Oct. 26, 1915, in Toronto. Died Feb. 6, 2012, in Toronto of congestive heart failure, aged 96.
Almost a hundred years ago, Hughie arrived in a somewhat unconventional way: Born into poverty, in a house in downtown Toronto without running water or indoor plumbing, he was a breach baby delivered on a kitchen table. It was a high-risk way of coming into the world, and Hughie continued his journey, moving resolutely through the next 96 years.
To a kid running loose in the streets of downtown Toronto, apples were as good as candy; Hughie and his pals would steal them from horse-drawn produce wagons, snagging them with a long stick tipped with a nail. Fleet of foot, they’d hide in alleys and enjoy the fruits of their labour; Hughie always made sure his friends got the first bites.
After graduating from Parkdale Collegiate, Hughie went on to complete medical school at the University of Toronto. Back then, Jewish grads had extremely limited options for internships in Toronto – the quota was one a year. Hughie went to Pontiac, Mich., then to Patterson, N.J. In 1942, facing the prospect of American conscription, he decided to return to Canada and serve with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
On the way to Italy, his convoy was hit by German aerial bombers at Gibraltar; fortunately, his ship was spared. Later, while in Italy, he begged and borrowed scarce medication from the British Army, claiming they were for Canadian troops; in fact, he gave them to a young Italian boy, saving him from typhoid and certain death. For Hughie, it was about practising good medicine, not ideology – and he’d play outside the rules if needed to deliver the goods. He and his colleagues also “ran” the local brothel, to ensure the prostitutes had regular medical checkups – protecting both the sex-trade workers and the troops from STIs.
Upon returning to Toronto in 1945, he and three army colleagues began the Albany Medical Clinic in the east end of the city – an innovative design for a multidisciplinary community health clinic. In those early days, business was meagre. The doctors took turns sleeping at the clinic, providing 24-hour service. Their wives would often spend the nights with them, making sure to put on fresh sheets on the cot in the morning for the next wife.
The clinic expanded to include many family practitioners and medical specialists. Before the phrase “universal health care” was popularized, Hughie refused to allow specialists to extra-bill – he believed that everyone, regardless of income, had the right to optimal medical care.
On a blind date in 1947, Hughie met Shirley, the love of his life, and together they enjoyed 64 wonderful years.
In his 75th year, he made his last house call the night before he retired. Over the next 20 or so years, his softer side flourished – he took a course in baking challah bread, learned needlepoint, and took classes at York University and U of T in “living and learning in retirement.” But mostly, he relished his time with Shirley and with family, in Toronto and Victoria.
Hughie’s family was his highest priority. He was a gentle man and a gentleman – sensitive, loving and humble. He never spoke an unkind word.
Following a brief stay in hospital, he died peacefully, surrounded by family. Shortly after his passing, Shirley found a note in his wallet that he had written to himself, as a reminder of self-acceptance. In his characteristic “doctor scrawl” were the words, “It's ok to make mistakes – in fact, it's expected. That is the way we live and learn.”
By Mitch Kline, Ellen Reiss, Paul Kline and Hersh Kline, Hughie and Shirley’s children.
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