Guy Joron was a soft-spoken endocrinologist and hospital executive who was instrumental in the transition of St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal from a small 200-bed faith-based maternity hospital run by nuns into a top-notch 600-bed teaching hospital affiliated with McGill University.
Serving simultaneously in the 1960s as the executive assistant to McGill’s dean of medicine, as chief of St. Mary’s Department of Medicine and as the university’s liaison with the Quebec College of Physicians, Joron was ideally positioned to negotiate the hospital’s amalgamation with the university and at the same time co-ordinate its resident training program to accommodate McGill’s requirements.
Joron, who died on Oct. 2 six weeks shy of his 95th birthday, was known to friends and colleagues as “The Grey Fox.”
“He was very methodical, you could not deter him from his determined cause,” said Richard Curess, a former dean of McGill’s Medical faculty. “He was the straightest arrow you ever met. He had so much integrity.”
Guy Ernest Joron, a notary’s son, was born in Montreal Nov. 18, 1916, and was schooled by Jesuits at Loyola College before studying medicine at McGill. He got his degree in 1941 but because the Second World War was on, went directly into the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was dispatched by the military to the High Arctic and to Northern Saskatchewan on Operation Eskimo, to study the effects of frigid temperatures on troops and equipment. He was less than impressed with the assignment. When asked later what he had learned from the experience, he replied dryly: “Predictably, they froze.” Joron then was then sent to Washington, D.C., to study tropical medicine. By the time he was demobilized in 1946 he had little experience in treating patients, so he completed three years of residency at the Montreal General Hospital, followed by a year as Nuffield Fellow in London.
Joron had a special interest in diseases of metabolism and toxicology. He joined St. Mary’s hospital in 1951, because, he said, it “was hiring an odd mix of foreign specialists who came to Canada after the war and was the most cosmopolitan hospital in the city.”
The following year McGill University expressed interest in having some of its residents take postgraduate training in anesthesia and obstetrics at St. Mary’s. Joron was recruited to head the committee to investigate the pros and cons of such an arrangement. Not everyone was enthusiastic. At the time, residency training was hospital based, and opponents were concerned that the proposal would add 20 per cent to the hospital budget, and St. Mary’s couldn’t afford that. It was also feared McGill would run roughshod over the small institution and the hospital would lose its identity.
As senior residents and McGill specialists found work at the hospital, St. Mary’s gradually drifted into McGill’s orbit. Joron was named chief of the Department of Medicine at St. Mary’s in 1967. The appointment had to be postponed because he broke his hip on the fair site on the opening day of Expo 67 and it took him eight months to recover.
At his funeral it was said that, “he had grace, a straight-faced sense of humour, and if you could parry with him, if you understood his sly, shy sense of humour, he was a great boss.”
The terms of affiliation he helped to negotiate with McGill were finally approved in 1968 on a two-year trial basis. Under the arrangement, the chiefs of the various departments involved at St. Mary’s had to be acceptable to both the university and the hospital. Eventually, the Quebec government took over the administration of all Quebec hospitals, and in 1970, without any formal agreement, the arrangement became permanent. The hospital was given full status as a McGill teaching hospital three years ago.
“The thing about Guy was that he was a perfectionist. He considered things so thoroughly, reflected on every angle and wanted so much to do the right thing, he could drive you to distraction,” said Constant Nucci, who as an associate dean of Post Graduate Education at McGill worked with Joron both at the university and as a head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Mary’s. They sometimes crossed swords as a result of interdepartmental rivalries. “Whatever our differences, you had to admire him. He was devoted, benevolent and fair, an excellent clinician, and undeniably an asset both to St. Mary’s and to McGill,” Nucci said.
After he retired in 1982, Joron continued to work at the McGill Centre for Continuing Education. He published a number of scientific papers on diabetes and co-authored a book on toxicology with Edward Bensley. He was a founding member of Camp Carowanis for diabetic youngsters on Lake Didi in the Laurentians and was actively involved with St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in Outremont until it closed four years ago. He was also an avid reader of detective novels.
Joron leaves his wife of 64 years, Hélene Beauchemin, and their two sons and three daughters.
Special to The Globe and Mail