Dr. H. Rocke Robertson
From the battlefields of World War II to the emergency room of the Montreal General Hospital and the principal’s office of McGill University, every turn of Harold Rocke Robertson’s remarkable life illustrates one of his favourite quotations: “As we establish our rightful place in the world, it is chiefly char-acter that counts.”
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, and educated in Switzerland, Robertson moved to Montreal to attend McGill University and, by 1936, had received both his B.Sc. and MD. Following an internship at the Montreal General Hospital, he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Army’s Medical Corps and served in Europe, where he commanded surgical units in the field and participated in the allied invasion of Italy. Returning to his native British Columbia after the war, Robertson served in the Vancouver Military Hospital before joining the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine. His alma mater retained a special place in his heart, however, and Robertson returned to Montreal in 1959 as Surgeon-in-Chief at the Montreal General Hospital. There, this dedicated teacher and valued colleague oversaw the creation of the University Surgical Clinic, developed a Surgical Intensive Care Unit and was named Chairman of Surgery. His military training inspired him to streamline the General’s emergency room and develop the Trauma Team concept, which is the model for trauma care today.
In 1962, Robertson was the first physician and the first McGill graduate to become the principal and vice-chancellor of the university. Under his leadership, McGill saw many significant changes, including the rapid physical expansion of the university, a dramatic increase in the number of staff and students and the introduction of an important policy that permitted students to submit papers and exams in French.
During his lifetime, Robertson received numerous awards from various institutions, including honorary degrees from Harvard University and the University of Toronto. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the American College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1969, shortly before he retired as McGill’s principal, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. A prolific and widely published writer, Robertson was also a dedicated reader with a passion for lexicography and for collecting rare English dictionaries. When he died in his 86th year, he left behind his beloved wife Rolly and their four accomplished children. To find out more about Robertson’s distinguished life, check out Richard W. Pound’s new book, Rocke Robertson: Surgeon and Shepherd of Change, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.