Pediatrician, prankster, voracious reader, grandfather. Born Feb. 8, 1921, near Ailsa Craig, Ont., died Nov. 21, 2012, in Toronto of heart failure, aged 91.
Ken was born on the family farm in Lobo Township, Ont., and educated in a one-room school house where he had the dubious distinction of getting the strap four times in one week. He also earned first-class honours in Grade 8. The prize: a 22-calibre rifle. Unusual by today’s standards.
He worked hard to get off the farm. His father, as a member of the London Library Board, would censor books considered “inappropriate” for the times (no doubt some are now considered classics). Ken became a voracious reader of these books while his parents were out doing chores. Thus, his love of reading was born.
Since the local school did not have Grade 13, Ken moved to Toronto to live with his married sister for his senior year of high school. After graduating from Malvern Collegiate, he entered medical school at the University of Toronto and completed the accelerated course with honours in 1944.
Ken’s school pranks were legendary. But graduation ceremonies interrupted by wailing fire sirens or continuous shots from a starter’s pistol and wandering chickens on the Hart House stage did not faze the university president: His only reference to these antics was, “The years will sober you.” They did not.
Ken met Barb, his wife of 65 years, while he was a student intern at Toronto East General hospital. In 1947, he accepted a fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health and they enjoyed a wonderful year in Boston. Ken’s medical practice began in Bloor West Village and migrated further west to the Kingsway. Over his 49-year career, he came to be recognized as the leading pediatrician for west Toronto. Ken was Chief of Pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Hospital for 19 years as well as being on staff at the Hospital for Sick Children. His patients and colleagues praised his compassion, quiet confidence, impeccable judgment and eagle-eyed diagnostics. As one patient’s family described him: “Smart, sensible and not too friendly – I liked that.”
Ken and Barb’s three children, Jane, Susan and Neil, their friends and the grandchildren all talk about the fun times at the Phillips’s house and farm. Spine-chilling Halloween parties, bridge lessons, horseback riding, piano, searching for the ghost pig in the barn, rare-roast-beef dinners and swimming in the pond are among the cherished memories.
In retirement, Ken took care of Barb, who was stricken with dementia. He also wrote short stories, several of which were published in The Globe and Mail, and continued with his love of family, reading, music and animals.
Although he spent his last three years in a wheelchair in chronic care, his serenity and composure earned him the esteem of staff and residents. Ken was content with his Mac computer, his wonderful memories and Skype calls with the grandchildren. The only major challenge was keeping him in reading material.
“Doc”, as he was known to the grandchildren and all who loved him, will be greatly missed.
Susan Keir is Ken’s daughter.