06.15.2011 01:00 AM

June 15


Like some men, and as was the practice in some families, my brothers and I did not hug my father a lot. As we got older in places like Montreal, or Kingston, or Dallas or Calgary, we also did not tell him that we loved him as much as we did. With our artist Mom, there was always a lot of affection, to be sure; but in the case of my Dad, usually all that was exchanged with his four boys was a simple handshake, when it was time for hello or goodbye. It was just the way we did things.

There was, however, much to love about our father, and love him we did. He was, and remains, a giant in our lives – and he was a significant presence, too, for many of the patients whose lives he saved or bettered over the course a half-century of healing. We still cannot believe he is gone, with so little warning.

Thomas Douglas Kinsella was born on February, 15, 1932 in Montreal. His mother was a tiny but formidable force of nature named Mary; his father, a Northern Electric employee named Jimmy, was a stoic man whose parents came over from County Wexford, in Ireland. In their bustling homes, in and around Montreal’s Outremont, our father’s family comprised a younger sister, Juanita, and an older brother, Howard. Also there were assorted uncles – and foster siblings Bea, Ernie, Ellen and Jimmy.

When he was very young, Douglas was beset by rheumatic fever. Through his mother’s ministrations, Douglas beat back the potentially-crippling disease. But he was left with a burning desire to be a doctor.

Following a Jesuitical education at his beloved Loyola High School in Montreal, Douglas enrolled at Loyola College, and also joined the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. It was around that time he met Lorna Emma Cleary, at a Montreal Legion dance in April 1950. She was 17 – a dark-haired, radiant beauty from the North End. He was 18 – and a handsome, aspiring medical student, destined for an officer’s rank and great things.

It was a love like you hear about, sometimes, but which you rarely see. Their love affair was to endure for 55 years – without an abatement in mutual love and respect.

On a hot, sunny day in June 1955, mid-way through his medical studies at McGill, Douglas and Lorna wed at Loyola Chapel. Then, three years after Douglas’ graduation from McGill with an MD, first son Warren was born.

In 1963, second son Kevin came along, while Douglas was a clinical fellow in rheumatism at the Royal Vic. Finally, son Lorne arrived in 1965, a few months before the young family moved to Dallas, Texas, to pursue a research fellowship. In the United States, Douglas’ belief in a liberal, publicly-funded health care system was greatly enhanced. So too his love of a tolerant, diverse Canada.

In 1968, Douglas and his family returned to Canada and an Assistant Professorship in Medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston. More than 35 years later, it was at Kingston General Hospital – in the very place where Douglas saved so many lives – that his own life would come to a painless end in the early hours of June 15, 2004, felled by a fast-moving lung cancer.

Kingston was followed in 1973 by a brief return to Montreal and a professorship at McGill. But an unstable political environment – and the promise of better research in prosperous Alberta – persuaded the family to journey West, to Calgary.

There Lorna and Douglas would happily remain for 25 years, raising three sons – and providing legal guardianship to grandson Troy, who was born in 1982. At the University of Calgary, and at Foothills Hospital, Douglas would achieve distinction for his work in rheumatology, immunology and – later – medical bioethics.

He raised his boys with one rule, which all remember, but none observed as closely as he did: “Love people, and be honest.” His commitment to ethics, and healing – and his love and honesty, perhaps – resulted in him being named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1995.

On the day that the letter arrived, bearing Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc’s vice-regal seal, Douglas came home from work early – an unprecedented occurence – to tell Lorna. It was the first time I can remember seeing him cry.

As I write this, I am in a chair beside my father’s bed in a tiny hospital room in Kingston, Ont.,where he and my mother returned in 2001 to retire. It is night, and he has finally fallen asleep.

My father will die in the next day or so, here in the very place where he saved lives. He has firmly but politely declined offers of special treatment – or even a room with a nicer view of Lake Ontario.

Before he fell asleep, tonight, I asked him if he was ready. “I am ready,” he said. “I am ready.”

When I leave him, tonight, this is what I will say to him, quietly: “We all love you, Daddy. We all love you forever.”

[Warren Kinsella is Douglas Kinsella’s eldest son. His father died two nights later.]

[From Globe’s Lives Lived, June 15, 2004.]


  1. New Craig Chamberlain says:

    He raised his boys with one rule, which all remember, but none observed as closely as he did: ?Love people, and be honest.?


    (Your dad’s education is evident in your writing.)

  2. Bernie Farber says:

    Warren, it matters not how often I read your loving tribute to your dear father, I always come to the final sentence and there are tears in my eyes. Like your Dad my late father Max (whom you knew)also had a quiet but vital impact on my life. Your words help us understand the power of love between fathers and children. Thank you for re-printing this and may the memory of Douglas Kinsella be always for a blessing.

  3. JenS says:

    That was lovely. It takes a fine parent to evoke such a moving piece from their child.

    But give a girl some warning, would you? Having a tissue nearby would have been nice.

  4. Mike says:

    What a tribute to a life well lived. Your father must be so proud of you.

  5. chris says:

    I too had trouble reading your tribute to your father without a tight chest and a tear. My Dad and I didn’t hug often growing up either and we didn’t tell each other that we loved one another very often. It was just understood that we loved each other and respected each other, we didn’t need to say it. But tonight I am going to visit him and tell him I love him and give him the longest hug we have ever had. Thank you for sharing this with everyone Warren.

  6. Dan McCarthy says:

    Hi Warren: thanks so much for posting this again. I read it each year on this date and I think of my father – similar Irish Catholic background and from what you’ve written, many similar personality traits. He passed away nine years ago and I didn’t get to sit with him in his final day.

    One story you’ll appreciate: several months after my mother passed away in 1997, I had the opportunity to accompany the PM (there is ony one!) to Moncton (my hometown) where he was speaking. My father was understandably still grieving and didn’t want to come out to the speech. I insisted he come, and when Mr. Chretien heard he was there, he immediately agreed to meet with him. They had a great 20 minute chat, and I have some wonderful photos of that day. For years after, my father could say that the PM came to Moncton, gave a speech, and had two meetings that day: one with the billionnaire family IRV….s, and the other with me!

    Thanks for making me think of that again today.


  7. AmandaM says:

    Every year. For me, it’s February 7.

    Thinking of you and the family today. Also, your dad’s looks certainly got passed down, didn’t they!

  8. To solicit such obvious love and respect, your dad must be a very special person, Warren. My thoughts are with you and your family. Be brave.

  9. michael hale says:

    every year you post this elegy, I read it. and I will continue to read it as long as you post it. he sounds like an amazing human being.

  10. Cam Prymak says:

    Our anniversary today, twenty years.

    Thinking about children, Douglas Kinsella and proof

    that they’re the best reflection of a man’s life.

  11. Susan says:

    Its so important to remember these days and keep them close. My children (Amanda M) being one of them, lost their dad 12 years ago on February 7. Like your dad, Warren, he was a wonderful father and they miss him terribly.
    He would have been proud to know how well they have done and the same would certainly be true about your father.

    My dad, who is 88, has just been diagnosed with acute leukemia. I have had him for such a long time and cannot imagine my life without him there. The smile, how proud he is and his desire to get ‘just a little more time.’

    There is never enough time.

    My thoughts are with you. You are a wonderful son.

  12. Robb says:

    Touching yet again.

    Thanks for posting that Warren. Always touches my heart year after year. Remarkable man, remarkable life and always makes me appreciate life to the fullest.

    Thank-you for sharing,

  13. david ackerman says:

    Nice tribute to your dad

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