Husband, father, surgeon, sportsman. Born on Dec. 30, in Port of Spain, Trinidad; died on Sept. 18, 2013, in Ottawa, of heart failure, aged 80.
Rudy Gittens was the fifth of eight children and grew up in humble circumstances in Belmont, Trinidad. But he was resourceful: He bought his first goat when he was nine and contributed to the family income by selling and delivering goat’s milk.
He was also an ambitious, long-term planner (he paid for his funeral almost 40 years before he died) whose first job in a drugstore in Port of Spain at $10 a week gave him the incentive to study pharmacy. He chose Canada for his studies because he had heard that if you had first-year fees, you could hope for a summer job to finance the remaining years.
He arrived in Port-Alfred, Que., in 1953 on a boat with a cargo of bauxite, and travelled four days and three nights by bus to Saskatoon. Although it was September, he waited four weeks before unpacking his suitcase because he didn’t think that he could handle the cold. He earned his degree in pharmacy from the University of Saskatchewan in 1957 and landed his first pharmacist position in Saskatoon, followed by another in Toronto in 1959.
After deciding that he wanted to help people by writing prescriptions rather than filling them, he entered medical school at the University of Ottawa in 1962 and obtained his degree four years later. A fellowship in orthopedic surgery and a specialty in sports medicine followed in 1972.
So began his 40-year career as a surgeon at Ottawa’s Riverside Hospital. His patients were always his priority; he made house visits, and rescheduled his own medical appointments to accommodate them. As one friend noted, Rudy’s medical skills were acknowledged but it was how he treated his patients, with humility and a great sense of humour, that made him unforgettable.
Rudy was also a professor, with positions at the University of Ottawa and at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. Fluent in English, French and Spanish, he was always ready to chat about literature, politics and history.
Outside the operating room, he was happiest combining his love of sport with the practise of sports medicine, serving first as team physician and orthopedic consultant for the Ottawa Rough Riders, and then moving into the hockey world with the Philadelphia Flyers and a 25-year connection with the Ottawa 67’s.
But since boyhood, soccer was his main passion; he pursued it by travelling the world as team physician with the Canadian national men’s and women’s soccer teams. He earned an international reputation and numerous honours for his work, including induction into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, and life memberships in FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.
Philanthropy was another of his passions. With his wife Betty, he focused on the elderly, providing prostheses for elderly amputees in St. Kitts, and leaving a final wish that donations in his memory be made to the ElderCare Foundation of Ottawa.
Rudy and Betty loved to entertain. Guests raved about his cooking, especially his pigtail soup, dumplings and buljol. His curried chicken was an annual hit at the Parkdale United Church international dinner. Les Marmitons, a well-known men’s cooking club in Ottawa, once invited him as guest chef.
Betty, his wife of 54 years, was his final passion. After meeting in Trinidad in 1958, they were married in Barbados in 1959, having seen each other only 18 days over a period of 15 months. They have two sons, Simon and Garth, and four grandchildren. When Rudy died suddenly at his home on that September afternoon, he was with Betty, exactly where he wanted to be.
John Harewood is a long-time friend of Rudy and his family.