Obstetrician, farmer, public education proponent, pie-box expert. Born on April 16, 1931, in West Lorne, Ont.; died on Nov. 25, 2013, in St. Thomas, Ont., from heart failure, aged 82.
“He died as he would have wanted ... with his work boots on and ready to go to the farm.” That line from the eulogy for George Sloan captured a life that started and ended in Southwestern Ontario, but spanned continents and cultures, and was marked by a host of contributions to medicine, agriculture and education.
George was born during the Depression, when money was scarce and clothes came from wealthy relatives in the United States. His mother, Sarah Ethelene, was a teacher known for her strong convictions; on his first day of school, she sent off her youngest son with a note pinned to his back: “George is too smart for kindergarten. Put him in Grade 1.”
With his mother’s encouragement, his education continued through to medical school at the University of Western Ontario, where he met and married Cela McKillop. They moved to Detroit, where George began his obstetrics and gynecology practice at Grace Hospital. But the young couple soon headed for what was then called Malaya, where he worked in a teaching hospital under the Commonwealth’s Colombo Plan for social and economic aid to Asia. There, with their newborn son (the first of four boys), George and Cela got a taste of the international experience that would spur an eventual move to Saudi Arabia, where George practised in the late 1970s.
Most of George’s life, however, was spent in St. Thomas, Ont., where he practised medicine for 40 years. At his 80th birthday party in 2011, he said he had delivered more than 10,000 babies.
His busy life was also marked by a passion for buying and selling real estate – residential, commercial and agricultural land where he farmed cash crops and planted a large apple and pear orchard.
And he served both as a St. Thomas alderman and as chairman, and four-term member, of the Elgin County school board. An early supporter of French immersion and early childhood education, he was passionate about his work on the school board, where he was known as an innovator (and a sometimes hard-nosed negotiator when it came to budgets).
George measured life by how hard you worked, and how much you contributed with what you had. In the late 1970s, he and Cela established the Sloan/McKillop Scholarship Fund to honour their mothers, both of whom were teachers in one-room schools. The fund supports high-school students in Elgin County who pursue a career in education. Recently, it also began to help elementary pupils in need – a cause dear to the heart of a man who always remembered wearing hand-me-downs as a child, and saw real poverty in his medical practice, especially in the years before public health insurance.
George loved summers at the family’s lakeside cottage in Port Stanley, where relatives and friends would congregate (though his unusual habit of planting trees that blocked the lake view was a source of mild irritation for his family).
In his final years, his main focus was the Salt Creek Farm Market in St. Thomas, which he founded in 1995 and where he served as chief pie-box maker. The May-to-December market sells seasonal produce, crafts and baked goods (more than 10,000 pies last season). He loved to stop in and pick up supplies, especially sweet corn.
Cela’s death in 2011, after 54 years of marriage, was devastating for George and the family. Slowed, but not hindered, by years of heart troubles, he accepted his physical limitations and was always the first to head for bed, often saying, “I’ve had a big day.” For so many years, his big days made a big difference to many lives.
Andrew Sloan is George’s youngest son.