Hugh Alexander MacMillan

Class of: 
Field of Study: 

“Beefy” as the class knew him for his formidable size, and as he was recognized on the football field at Varsity Stadium and at the hockey rink in the yard at UTS, was an ever-good natured and fun-loving member of the class. Nothing escaped his notice or his comment. As an example of this I remember him watching me at the Meds-at-Home and scrutinizing carefully my rather attractive date. The next day he enquired as to “how I was making out with that gal?”  When I looked vague he laughed and said: “always remember that it is the steady rain that soaks.”

Hugh came from a medical family. His father was a close associate of Dr. Herbert Bruce, founder of the Wellesley Hospital, and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. His brother Bob was a distinguished member of the Department of Medicine at TGH, and an early investigator of platelet function with Fraser Mustard and initiator of the world’s first coronary care monitoring unit (with Ken Brown). After graduation he spent the next year in the RCNVR posted to Halifax.

He decided on a career in pathology and spent three years at the Banting Institute. This was succeeded by time at Union Medical College in Albany, New York. There, the tragedy occurred. October 1950 marked the last great polio epidemic and as a consequence of a post-mortem on a victim. (c.f. Joe Kyle biography), he was stricken with the bulbar variety with quadriplegia. After prolonged rehabilitation he could manage with a rocking bed, rocking-chair and frog-type respiration.

Despite this tremendous handicap he joined the staff of the Crippled Children’s Centre. To these unfortunate children he was a living example of what could be accomplished despite the stacking of the odds against you. He went to work every day and the children grew to admire and indeed love him. His classmates from UTS, Medical School, his athletic teams, and his fraternity brothers grew disturbed at the description “crippled.” The Board of the Centre agreed that if we raised for them collectively a generous sum of money, the name could be improved. This campaign headed by a fraternity brother, Gage Love, went over the top and the centre became “The Hugh MacMillan Centre.” This persisted for a couple of decades and it is now named something non-descript. It is likely that nobody on the present Board knew Hugh nor the poignancy all felt when the “crippled” was dropped and his friends kept their promises.

Polio vaccination has nearly eliminated this scourge from the earth. It came along too late for Hugh but our class can take pride in the fact that one of our Public Health teachers (Raymond Parker), finally succeeded in reliably growing the polio virus, the final step before successful vaccines were developed. Unhappily, the Nobel Prize Committee overlooked his vital contribution.

(Addendum by N.Watters:)  Hugh’s sister acquired polio, fortunately less severe, at the same time after a shared meal. He started his recovery in the “Iron Lung.” His character and determination were such that, while able to breathe only with a rocking bed, he wanted to do something useful.  And so he studied electrocardiography, and read the ECGs for Sunnybrook.  Learning that there was a new Russian literature in cardiology, he taught himself enough Russian to translate these articles for his colleagues. This was before he began work at the Bloorview MacMillan Centre.  Throughout his courageous life Hugh had the tremendous support of his wife Marjorie, who made his career possible.


Career Achievements

Medical Director, Bloorview MacMillan Hospital


Excerpt written by: Dr. Henry Barnett


Barnett, Henry, Joan Borland, Jack Laidlaw, Neil Watters and Bruce Wells. The Epic Journey of University of Toronto Medical Class of 1944. Toronto: University of Toronto, Faculty of Medince, 2012. pg. 51.

Related Items