John Coleman Laidlaw (Jack)

Class of: 
Field of Study: 
Year of Birth: 
Year of Death: 

Jack is one of the most talented and accomplished members of our class. Since early UTS days Jack has exhibited a genuine and warm smile. In some ways this smile and his perpetually boyish appearance suggests a degree of politely expressed innocence. Those who know him long since realized that behind this polite manner of his, there lurks a superior intelligence and a strong sense of purpose. He is one of the real stars in the class of 4T4.

Dr. Jack Laidlaw (1921-2015) was not able to enter medical school when he had finished high school because he was two years too young for the admissions committee. He then started in B&M as he had serious scientific ambitions of the kind which led to the creation of this course. For wartime reasons he rejoined his high school mates in second year. How good for the rest of us!

He pursued biochemistry in Toronto (MA 1947) and London, England (PhD 1950) and endocrinology at Harvard where he served as an Instructor in Medicine. Fortunately for Canada he returned to run the Clinical Investigation Unit at Toronto General Hospital. In 1949 he became a Research Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He was a 5-year Markle Scholar, and served as president of the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation and President of the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

At the age of twenty, inspired to take part in the efforts to rid the world of tyranny, Jack took a job as a “coal passer” in the furnace room of a Greek freighter (SS Korthion) plying the Western Atlantic. He survived and four years later was a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. After that he never stopped adding to his laurels.  He was the founding Director of the University of Toronto Institute of Medical Science in the Graduate School for training of clinical investigators. He went to McMaster as Chairman of the Department of Medicine. Then he became the third Dean of the embryonic McMaster Health Sciences Faculty, and later, Scientific Advisor to the President of the Medical Research Council of Canada.

At an exceptionally young time in his career he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and belatedly (2003) to the Order of Canada. In 2002 the Jack Laidlaw Chair in Patient-Centred Health Care was created at McMaster University. He was the first Head of the new Institute of Medical Sciences at U of T.

The pursuit of cancer took up his later years, starting in 1986 as Executive Director, Medical Affairs of the Canadian Cancer Society, and Vice-President, Research and Education of OCTRF (later renamed Cancer Care Ontario). As a consultant with Cancer Care International he helped in the organization of cancer control in Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan. From 1981 to 1986 he was a member of the Advisory Committee on Medical Research of the World Health Organization. Since 2000 he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Healthcare Communication in the US. This Institute has as its mandate, through a variety of workshops, improvement in communication between health professionals and patients. Jack is also a member of the Advisory Committee of a comparable Institute in Canada, which he and Dr. Don Cowan established in 2005.

With all this genuine pioneering, he maintains his human touch, his sense of humour, his integrity and idealism. He is never far from a smile, lacks vanity and pretension. He has no enemies, jealous colleagues or rivals. Aging has not changed him nor his devotion to his wife, Ann, a social worker. When he receives an honour or a recognition, all who know him say simply, “of course.”

Dr. Jack Laidlaw passed away on June 6th, 2015 after battling a lengthy kidney illness, he was 94 years old. 

Link to Dr. Laidlaw's obituary:


Career Acheivements

Jack Laidlaw Chair in Patient-Centred Health Care, McMaster University

Founding Director, University of Toronto Institute of Medical Science

Advisor to WHO, MRC and Cancer Care Ontario

Discovered type of familial hypertension


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. 47-48.

Related Items