E N T S
tribute to Dr. John Ross
The rolling hills and
roaring shores of the East Coast Trail presented a breathtaking backdrop
for hikers who gathered in St. John’s in October to reflect upon the
life and work of Dr. John Ross.
By Jonathan Carpenter
The rolling hills and roaring shores
of the East Coast Trail presented a breathtaking backdrop for hikers
who gathered in St. John’s in October to reflect upon the life and
work of Dr. John Ross.
Dr. Ross was a respected physician and
educator. He passed away in 1999 at age 71, but is still greatly admired
in both national and international circles for his humanitarian efforts
and his dedication to family medicine. That’s why each year, the Family
Medicine Unit at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine hosts the Dr.
John Ross Memorial Hike to pay tribute to his life.
Dr. Ross was born in Kenya in 1928. The
son of a Scottish colonial medical officer and an Australian missionary
mother, he spent much of his early life growing up in Uganda. He was
formerly trained in England as a cardiothoracic surgeon, during which
time he served as a surgeon with the British Army during the Suez Crisis
In 1957, he left Britain and traveled to
Port aux Basques, where he began rotations at the Channel Cottage
Hospital. It was there that he met his wife, Doreen, a British SRN and
midwife. They later moved to Bonne Bay where he practiced as a GP for 10
years. He left Bonne Bay in 1971 to help establish Atlantic Canada’s
first family medicine training program at Memorial University in St.
He held a number of positions at the
university including Chair of Family Practice, until in 1988, when he
traveled to Uganda to help establish postgraduate training programs at
remote hospitals. He was also instrumental in creating a self-funding
system for the Tororo Hospital, located about 240 miles from Uganda’s
capital city, Kampala.
In addition to his work in Africa, Dr.
Ross ran a part-time free clinic in St. John’s for the less fortunate
and founded the provincial chapter of Physicians for Social
Responsibility. Upon his return to Newfoundland in 1994, he was honored
with the Order of Canada.
In his retirement years Dr. Ross
volunteered as a guardian for the East Coast Trail and in that role he
helped construct segments of the trail system. Since 2001, faculty,
friends and colleagues, as well as new residents, hike a section of the
East Coast Trail in his memory.
This year marked the seventh year of the
hike, which was attended by roughly 30 people and encompassed the
Sugarloaf Path section of the trail. Luanne Agriesti-Cleary, who
organizes the hike every year, says it is a wonderful opportunity for
residents and faculty to get to know one another while remembering an
“The Memorial Hike is our way of
supporting the East Coast Trail Association because it was one of John’s
loves in life. He was an avid hiker and custodian of the Spout Trail.
Part of Dr. Ross’ ashes are also scattered along the trail leading into
the Spout. It was just one of the things that he loved to do, and that’s
why we carried on the tradition in his name,” she said.
As the group made their way along the
trail, friends exchanged stories about John and how he had impacted
their lives. They also exchanged Dr. Ross’ walking cane, which was
crafted by members of the Ugandan community of Tororo, where Dr. Ross
practiced for five years.
“The cane carries a spiritual
significance, whereby the soul of the person that the cane was built for
will protect anyone who carries it while walking,” said Dr. Roger
“We take the cane every year and we pass
it through the crowd so that everybody gets a chance to use it on the
hike as a way to reflect on his life. It lets us know that in order to
be a good physician we need to take care of ourselves and also take care
of Mother Nature,” he added.
Dr. Butler runs his practice at the Ross
Family Medicine Clinic, which was opened a year ago at the L.A Miller
Centre in St. John’s. He was also one of Dr. Ross’ first students.
“John was a great role model for all of us
and if you were to mention his name in family medicine circles he gets
the utmost respect across the province and across the country. I like to
think that our clinic is doing a good job by following his example.”
For more information about the Dr. John
Ross Memorial Hike or to attend next year’s hike, contact
Luanne Agriesti Cleary.