Founding Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology UCWI/UWI: 1953 - 1970
David Stewart (DBS) was born in 1916 in Winnipeg, Canada. His father was a distinguished Canadian tuberculosis physician who was the medical superintendent of Manitoba's TB sanitorium. DBS did his undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba, graduating with a B.Sc. His favourite subject was zoology and he fully intended to make this his career but eventually opted for medicine, graduating in 1941. The following year, as World War 2 increasingly ravaged Europe, DBS signed up for the Royal Canadian Air Force and spent four years as medical officer in Canada and then Britain. While overseas he learned of the work of a remarkable man, Dugald Baird (later Sir Dugald) who had established an impressive department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Aberdeen, Scotland. Baird's avant-garde and eclectic approach has been described: "his main preoccupation was to make academic obstetrics and gynaecology something that encompassed all the problems of human reproductive biology. This was to be not merely the safe delivery of a live baby by an uninjured mother, but the creation of a population of healthy, well fed women in a state of physical and mental fitness to make them not only mothers but good, fit, happy mothers".1 DBS visited Aberdeen and immediately knew that this was where he should train. Further, this was where his forefathers had lived before emigrating to Canada, and there were a few relations still living in Aberdeen.
When the war was over he returned to Canada and then back to Britain, this time with his wife, Ruth, and three young children. Five years later he was appointed consultant and lecturer in Aberdeen. Then he got wind of an exciting new venture. He probably heard of the establishing of a new University and medical school in Jamaica from Eric Cruickshank who had accepted the post of professor of Medicine, even though the hospital and school had yet to be built. In the post-war years the British Colonial Office realized that the decimation in the war of large numbers of young Britons meant that there was no longer a supply of teachers, doctors and other professionals for the colonies. It was an inspired and prescient plan, particularly for bankrupt post-war Britain, to establish universities and medical schools in the West Indies (Kingston, Jamaica), West Africa (Ibadan, Nigeria), East Africa (Makerere, Kampala, Uganda) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur). This was an adventure that DBS clearly could not resist. Once again he packed up the family and sailed Jamaica-wards on a banana boat. He had therefore become, at the age of 37 the Professor and head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UCWI, a position he held for 17 years.
One of "Prof's" most immediate tasks was to create a teaching programme for the 15 members of the first medical school class. The success of a very anxious collection of teachers and students is amusingly captured in this quote from one of the very first team of London external examiners: "On the plane coming out, we had agreed that we would have to pass one or two candidates so that the faculty would not be too much discouraged. In fact, we found the students to be quite up to London standard, and the percentage of passes more than normally expected in any of the London teaching hospitals."2
The other major task was the creation of a modern obstetrics unit. But, as Prof told it: "eventually all was ready for the expected flood of patients and then the unexpected occurred. In the bright new wards stood row upon row of empty beds each with a red blanket neatly folded at the foot and with a baby cot ready at the bedside. But there were no patients. The Hospital Manager asked the editor of the Gleaner for some publicity, and a reporter (the well known novelist, Vic Reid) was assigned to the job. Mr. Reid's arrival was nothing short of dramatic. He had picked up a young market woman who was hurrying back from Kingston to her home in the hills, and somewhere along Hope Road she had a precipitate delivery in the back of Mr. Reid's car. A much shaken journalist arrived at the unit, very much relieved to be able to turn over the care of his passenger to the midwives, and badly needing some resuscitation himself. The episode was useful in two ways, because Mr. Reid, when he had recovered, wrote an amusing and informative newspaper account of the new wards; and secondly the patient's friends and relatives from her country district who came to visit her were so impressed with the unit that they diligently attempted to keep it in business ever since.....the flood of reproduction then began and very soon the staff was faced with too much rather than too little work."2
Professor Stewart was a consummate clinician, teacher, administrator and mentor. He served terms as Vice-dean and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. In addition to establishing and running a busy clinical and teaching unit, he did research on common conditions of the time: granuloma inguinale, vulval carcinoma and lymphogranuloma venereum. He introduced the Pap smear, the use of radium in the treatment of carcinoma of the cervix. He established a domiciliary delivery service, and initiated family planning services. He published widely, but was most proud of the textbook "Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the Tropics", co-authored with his friend Professor John Lawson of Ibadan University, Nigeria.
Professor Stewart taught many hundreds of medical students and nurses. Dozens of postgraduate trainees in his department went on to play important roles in delivering excellent obstetrical and gynaecological care throughout the Caribbean and indeed in many other countries. A unique measure of his success and that of his department and the UWI is that four of his senior lecturers went on to become professors in prestigious British medical schools.
Prof's interests outside of medicine include playing the viola, and he was particularly fond of playing and listening to string quartets. Saturday afternoon music sessions were sacrosanct. He was an avid ornithologist and this culminated in his re-writing a seminal 19th century book on Jamaican birds. Later he was to write the history of the Manitoba Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
At the age of 54, DBS decided to opt out of medicine, resign his post at UWI and return to Canada and to a different life. There were many reasons for this radical move, but an important one was that he felt that he now had a Caribbean colleague, Hugh Wynter, to take over the mantle and move the department further forward. DBS became a part-time lecturer at a small university, leaving time for his many and burgeoning interests. To his surprise, he eventually became head of the Department of Zoology, and in due course handed that over with pride and pleasure to a younger colleague. He continued on as a member of the Board of Governors of Brandon University for several years thereafter.
In this period of his life, DBS became a very determined activist for many causes, foremost of which were environmental and pacifist issues. He was an energetic member of Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, Amnesty International and Amnesty International Medical Network, Canadian World Federalists, and the United Nations Society (Canada). He played in the Brandon University Orchestra and was particularly pleased to share a music stand in the orchestra with one of his grand-daughters for several years. He and Ruth lived in a compact and charming house in the Manitoba countryside and in spite of it being "out in the bush", they received frequent visitors from far and wide. No snapshot of DBS would be complete without a mention of his fondness for his pipe and Appleton (no other rum would do!), and his charming farewell to anyone with a Jamaican connection - "walk good".
Honours bestowed on Professor Stewart include a military MBE, the Jamaican Independence medal, Canadian Silver Jubilee medal, Pioneer Award (UWI Medical Alumni), and LLD (Brandon University).
Prof died peacefully in November 2006, 5 months after his 90th birthday. As Dr. Prem Rattan succinctly put it "fracture of the hip in the elderly is a passport to the beyond". DBS is survived by his beloved wife, Ruth, his four children (one of whom is a physician [UWI '69]), seven grandchildren (two of whom are physicians) and two great grandchildren. His impact on students, postgraduate trainees and colleagues are captured in the following quotations:
"A stickler for details.... This was manifest in his teaching, clinical practice, research and surgical technique....it was these qualities that moulded so many under his influence." (Professor Hugh Wynter).
"DBS I have known since I was a little boy in short pants. He was always a favourite of mine and I saw him as a close father in the village that raised me. Give thanks for his life and his positive influence on so many." (Professor Frederick Hickling)
"There goes a legendary teacher and mentor." (Dr. Michael Hoyos)
"DBS was one of my best teachers at UWI. His gentle and non-intimidating style of teaching was so different from that of many others. As a student I felt that I could always approach him. He has left a great legacy to those who were fortunate to pass through his hands. My internship in O & G was very enjoyable mostly because of him and Hugh Wynter. He lives on in the lives of his family and in the innumerable healthcare personnel and others whose lives he touched." (Dr. Victor Boodhoo)
"Prof DBS was one of my icons and heroes, a very special, wise and gentle man whose influence on students was profound, yet not by lecturing to them. Very special to me is the pride and honour to have achieved the O & G medal under his watch and the fact that he was always proud of his 'boys'." (Professor Renn Holness)
"DBS meant more to me than friend, teacher and mentor - I regarded him as my role model and along with Mrs. Stewart, as part of my extended family. My beloved Prof led a very full life - a life that can be envied by many. He achieved, accomplished and enjoyed a whole lot in his 90+ years. For this we and his family should be duly proud and happy." (Dr. Joseph Butchey)
"DBS was a self-made teacher, using the science of teaching methods to give 5-star lectures. I think of his discipline at his desk, his benign reflections on the misdemeanours of so many, his great sense of humour, his love for good music. He was intellectually and emotionally a father to me." (Professor Henry Fraser)
"I have always thought of DBS as one of 'the indestructibles'. He was deeply loved and will be missed by us all." (Dr. Karl Massiah)
"In September 1956 I joined the staff of the Department of Surgery. Somehow the Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology befriended me and I was soon much honoured to become Surgical Advisor to the Stewart Household. Dave delivered two of our three children and only missed the third because he was on sabbatical in Nigeria. Dave was truly a fine human being and many are the better for having known him." (Professor Andrew Masson)
Walk good, Prof.
John Stewart, Vancouver, Canada, March 2007
1. Howie J. British Medical Journal 1987;295:378.
2. Golding JS. Ascent to Mona. University Press of the West Indies, 1994.