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1931 - 2020

Robert M. Filler, M.D., 1931-2020

Robert M. Filler, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.R.C.S.(C), O. Ont. passed away on Thursday, July 2, 2020 at his home in Toronto, Canada at 89 years of age.

He was born on March 3, 1931 in Brooklyn N.Y., the eldest son of Barnet Filler and Lilian Cohen. His father had emigrated from Russia, while his mother was a native New Yorker. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, then enrolled at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., graduating cum laude.

He was drafted as an army surgeon in Vietnam, working in a M.A.S.H. unit; in his spare time, he volunteered at local Vietnamese hospitals, treating children, primarily repairing cleft palates. For his care of these children he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the US Army.

After his military service, Dr. Filler was asked to become chief of clinical surgery at the Children’s Medical Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. While in Boston, he met June Risman, a graduate of Boston University and grade school teacher. The couple married in 1957 and had three children. Despite his busy professional life, Dr Filler had a strong sense of family and ethics.

He subsequently moved his family to Toronto to become the Surgeon-in-Chief at the Hospital for Sick Children and Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Toronto for an unprecedented 18-year term. Through his long career, Dr. Filler was an active member in more than a dozen prestigious Canadian and International medical societies, published more than 170 scientific articles, wrote 80 book chapters and trained a large number of pediatric surgery fellows from Canada, USA and from multiple international centers. He held a six-year governorship in the American College of Surgeons and was elected President of the American Pediatric Surgical Association in 1991.

He is well-known for his many contributions to the surgical treatment of infants and children. He is recognized as an expert in the separation of conjoined twins. In 1979, he performed an innovative operation at The Hospital for Sick Children on Herbie Quinones from New York City. The publicity from this operation helped establish the Herbie Fund at the Hospital for Sick Children to help children with serious health problems from around the world -- today, the foundation has helped more than 800 disadvantaged children from around the world.

In 1995 he initiated a Telemedicine program at Sick Kids, the first in Ontario. He was a founding member of the Canadian Society of Telehealth in 1998 and served as its President from 2000 to 2002. In 2006, the Ministry of Health started the Ontario Telemedicine Network, a province wide telemedicine network which encompasses more than 600 sites. Dr. Filler served as the first Chairman of the Board until 2009.

His community activities have included long term memberships on the Clinical Research Advisory Committee for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Director of the Ronald McDonald Children's Charities, and Governor of Variety Village. In his career he has been honored by various awards including the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Variety Club's Sir James Carreras' Award, and the Alumni Achievement Award, Washington University School of Medicine. The Hospital for Sick Children established an endowed Chair in Pediatric Surgery in his name. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of Ontario.

Dr. Filler has been described by those who knew him as "having a great bedside manner and always making time for the patient... there should be more Bob Fillers in the world".