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lives lived

Thomas Allen Patterson

Thomas Allen Patterson: Uncle. Physician. Microbiologist. Genealogist. Born Oct. 25, 1931, in Stirling, Ont.; died Sept. 4, 2017, in Toronto; of metastatic colon cancer; age 85.

"A modest man is usually admired if people ever hear of him," said novellist Edgar Watson Howe. In life, Tom Patterson was so unassuming that we thought parts of his life story should be heard.

Tom was raised in the small town of Stirling, Ont., and worked at his father's haberdashery, where he learned the meaning of "service with a smile" – this served him well the rest of his life.

He graduated from the University of Toronto in medicine in 1956. After his internship, Tom did further training in internal medicine and spent several years in general practice.

His skills at classifying made him the perfect archivist. Naturally, genealogy became one of his loves. Over the years, he pieced together his own family history back to the early 1800s.

His research led to a United Empire Loyalist designation for his family, and he discovered that his mother arrived in Canada as a "Barnardo child," rescued from the slums of London and sent to Canada by Dr. Thomas Barnardo's charity.

A lifelong bachelor, Tom was able to make an abrupt vocational transition that saw him retrain as a microbiologist. He joined Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital in 1973. In 1975, his further training in parasitology gave the laboratory real credibility and supported a fledgling international travel clinic. He even did bench work – preparing some of the specimens for microscopic examination himself – something which endeared him to the lab's technicians.

Tom had simple tastes: For him, gourmet cuisine was eating curds at his hometown's cheese factory. He also had a fear of flying, but in 1989 he put his fear aside and flew to northeastern Thailand to study melioidosis, an disease unheard of in Canada. He worked tirelessly with a colleague during the country's rainy season but upon his return, he talked mostly about the benefits of a warm climate and the country's wonderful food.

Following retirement in 1995, Tom wasn't finished learning. He went to England where he earned a diploma at the renowned London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and became the school's oldest graduate. He then volunteered at St. Mary's Hospital Lacor near Gulu, Uganda, to try out his new skills. He would spend three months there every second year, only quietly grumbling that he had to pay all his expenses, including room and board, and listen to gunshots at night from the ongoing guerrilla war. Retirement also gave him time to establish a local chapter for the Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief.

Tom loved music and his church. He played the piano well, learned to play the organ, sang in choirs and became a bell ringer at St. James Cathedral. He cherished the beauty and calm of an Anglican vespers service and planned his own evensong funeral service, which left joy in the hearts of family and friends.

Tom's will to live was so strong that he endured the final six years of his life receiving chemotherapy for advanced cancer. This burden only slowly halted the ambitions of a man who stated in his obituary, "So much work to do and so little time."

Geoffrey Gardiner and Peter Kopplin were Tom's colleagues, Pat Vanini is Tom's niece.

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to