Winter 2007

Hikers pay tribute to Dr. John Ross

Submitted Photo



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 Egypt.

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. John’s.

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 esteemed colleague.

“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 Butler.

“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.



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