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1927 - 2015

ANTHONY DOBELL, M.D., 1927 - 2015

Tony Dobell was born in Montreal on May 12, 1927 at the Royal Victoria Hospital where he subsequently served as a Cardiac Surgeon. His preliminary education was at Selwyn House School in Montreal and Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville Quebec. He completed a Bachelor of Science Degree at McGill University in 1949 and graduated from McGill Medical School in 1951. His record at McGill is one of high academic standards and broad athletic participation. He was proud to have been the goaltender for the McGill Redmen Hockey Team both during his science degree and his time in medical school. His varsity athletic experience explains his lifelong participation in tennis, alpine skiing and his concept of a team approach for successful cardiothoracic surgery. Upon completion of medical school, he did the traditional rotating internship at The Montreal General Hospital. His interest in surgery was piqued by a rotation at the King Edward Hospital in Bermuda where he worked with a superb surgeon, Dr. Mark Kaufman. This prompted him to apply for surgical training to Dr. John Gibbon in Philadelphia whom he had met earlier in his medical school rotations. This led to a four year residency in General and Thoracic Surgery from1952 to 1956 during which time he participated in the Gibbon effort to develop a heart lung apparatus which was supported by engineers from I.B.M. Dobell, in fact, was in the operating room when Gibbon closed an atrial septal defect in a 16 year old girl (1953). Dr. Dobell had a career long special relationship with John Gibbon which went far beyond surgical education. It often included a renewed tennis rivalry at annual surgical meetings. Tony Dobell returned to McGill in 1956 and was responsible for developing an open heart program at McGill University initially on the pediatric side and subsequently at both adult hospitals. Dr. Dobell led a team at the Royal Victoria Hospital to a successful heart transplant on November 3rd, 1968.

Dobell’s administrative skills and team building leadership were vital in the move from a hospital based residency to a McGill University Program in Cardio-Thoracic Surgery. This utilized the resources at the two adult hospitals along with the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He accomplished this feat as Director of the Division of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Simultaneously, he was Chair of the Specialty Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and developed national standards for the specialty and achieved recognition for Canadian programs within the American Board of Thoracic Surgeons. He worked with Dr. Dag Munro to develop the Stikeman Visiting Professorship which allows an annual visiting professor from anywhere in the world to participate in the McGill Residency Training Program. He also encouraged alumni of the residency program to return on an annual basis for this event.

Dr. Dobell received numerous honors during and after his career. This included Canada’s highest civilian honor “The Order of Canada” in 1996. He served in leadership positions in all cardio-thoracic organizations in Canada and the U.S.A., but was proudest of his Presidency of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons in 1982.

In 2012, the McGill University Faculty of Medicine and the Montreal Children’s Hospital established the Anthony Dobell Chair in Pediatric Surgery, recognizing his monumental contributions to both pediatric and adult cardio-thoracic surgery.

Dobell was blessed with the unique ability to express himself clearly and succinctly. He attributed some of this to Gibbon who Tony described as having “a remarkable ability with the English language spoken and written”. As discussion of current residency work hours related to his own perception of his residency schedule at Jefferson involved a Wordsworth quote: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”.

Tony and his wife Cynthia raised four children (Karen, Curzon, Julie, and Sarah), all of whom enjoyed an active life with family weekends in the Laurentiens (Tremblant). Julie is an anesthesiologist in Utah. They all enjoyed competitive skiing, sailing and tennis. Tony participated well into his 80’s. His wife Cynthia died in 2006. He is survived by his second wife Marion Doheny.

Dr. Dobell concluded his presidential address to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons with his definition of surgery. “It is the care of one human being by another; a relationship involving to some extent technology, science, art, and business; a relationship involving invasion and manipulation on one individual’s body by another; a relationship requiring the human touch”. Dr. Dobell was a legendary leader at McGill University and his contributions live on in his family and his surgical residents who occupy leadership positions across North America.