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Wilbert Joseph Keon, M.D.
1935 - 2019

Wilbert Joseph Keon, M.D., 1935-2019

Dr. Wilbert J. Keon passed away Sunday, April 7, 2019 at the age of 83 and will be sorely missed by friends and family, colleagues and peers. The youngest of 13 children, he was born in Sheenboro, Quebec. A graduate of the University of Ottawa he pursued research training at McGill University and clinical training at McGill University, University of Toronto, and Harvard Medical Centre. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 1966, certifying in General Surgery (1966 and Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery (1968). He joined the Department of Surgery at the University of Ottawa as a Cardiac Surgeon and in 1976 became Professor and Chair until 1991. He will be remembered as an energetic and innovative Cardiac surgeon and founder and Director General of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. He is survived by his wife Anne of 59 years and their three children, Claudia, Ryan and Neil, and eight grandchildren.

His early career was devoted to developing safer methods of performing open cardiac procedures and his innovative and curious mind took him on to perform Ottawa’s first cardiac transplant and install Canada’s first artificial heart. Whilst he had studied in both Toronto and Boston, he returned to Ottawa which he considered home and he felt was in need of state-of-the art cardiovascular care.

Truly his proudest personal achievement and legacy is the Ottawa Heart Institute which opened in 1976. This innovative and pioneering project brought together, all under one roof, specialists in cardiovascular care which included those focused on preventative health, clinical and interventional cardiac care as well as research and teaching. The Ottawa Heart Institute was and is home to internationally recognized Cardiologists, Cardiac Surgeons and researchers and world class staff. It was only through perseverance, vision and steadfast leadership did the Ottawa Heart Institute become a reality that has already double in size and stature since first opening its doors. This was clearly a centre of medical excellence which constantly grew under his leadership as he served as its CEO until his retirement in 2004.

As a result of exemplary commitment and service to Canadians, Dr. Keon was called to the Senate and proudly served as a Senator from 1990 through 2010 during which time he contributed to and informed such major reports as "The health of Canadians: recommendations for reform" and "Out of the shadows at last", a pivotal report leading to the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. His scope expanded from excellent preventative healthcare care to population health management and his 20 year career in the Senate was marked by passion and sound understanding so to improve and advocate for changes in public healthcare policies.

Dr. Keon was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2002 and in 2007 was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. In 2007 he also received the Frederick-Newton-Gisborne Starr Award, the highest honor of the Canadian Medical Association.

Dr. Keon, a visionary, leader and caregiver was beloved of staff and students locally, nationally and internationally. His humility, empathy and yet subtle and effective assertiveness rendered him a highly revered healthcare leader. He will long be remembered by Canadians and beyond for his perhaps unparalleled contribution to cardiovascular medicine in Canada and around the world.

Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS, FRCSC
Kenneth A. Harris MD, FACS, FRCSC