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Biographical entry Robinson, Clayton Lindsay Nelson (1919 - 2011)

MRCS FRCS 1952; MD Queen's University Kingston 1943; FRCSC 1952.

28 April 1919
Chapeau, Quebec, Canada
13 November 2011
Thoracic surgeon


Clayton Lindsay Nelson Robinson, known as 'Robbie', was a thoracic surgeon in Vancouver, Canada. He was born in Chapeau, Quebec, the son of Joseph Edward Robinson, a rancher, and Ada Elizabeth Robinson née Armstrong. He was raised on a farm in Meath, Ontario, the youngest of three sons who were all destined to become doctors. Educated in the Ottawa Valley towns of Pembroke and Renfrew, he graduated early from Queen's Medical School in 1943 and volunteered for the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. He served on the HMCS Middlesex in the Atlantic convoy escort as a surgeon lieutenant until the end of the Second World War, when he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and travelled to Ceylon for three months. He was very proud of his time in the Navy, and loved telling stories about his time on the high seas.

After the war, Clayton demonstrated anatomy at the University of Toronto under J C B Grant (he wrote Grant's biography in 1993 for the Canadian Medical Association). His medical training in thoracic surgery continued in Vancouver and England, and he met his wife Kathleen Feenan at Southend-on-Sea Hospital. They were married on St Patrick's Day 1952 and honeymooned in Ireland, where Clayton kissed the Blarney Stone.

Clayton and Kathleen lived in Saskatoon from 1958 to 1966, where he was a member of the department of surgery and worked at University Hospital. He was president of both the Canadian Thoracic Association and Saskatoon Medical Association in 1965.

The family moved to Vancouver in 1966 and Clayton worked primarily at Vancouver General, Shaughnessy and St Vincent's hospitals and as a professor of surgery at the University of British Columbia. His work was his passion, and he was much loved by his patients and hospital staff. His crowning glory came in 1982 when he was invited to give a Hunterian Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The topic of his lecture was 'The role of surgery of the thymus for myasthenia gravis'. He was extremely honoured and proud of this invitation.

In 1985, Clayton turned 65 and, along with 14 other physicians, lost his privileges at Vancouver General Hospital. They challenged this newly-created hospital by-law on the grounds that it infringed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the basis of age discrimination. This precedent-setting case was eventually heard in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 and became the basis for many of the mandatory retirement policies of today.

Clayton also loved the sea and the mountains, and he built two sailing dinghies and a family cabin at Whistler, where family and friends shared many happy times. Although Kathleen was the social planner, Clayton loved making Irish coffees to 'splice the mainbrace'. He was an avid reader, frustrated gardener and regular attendee at the Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Opera, and Vancouver Men's Welsh Choir.

Clayton passed away in his home on 13 November 2011 at the age of 92. Predeceased by his wife Kathleen in 2009, he was survived by his children Moya, Elspeth and Richard, and his five grandchildren, Lucy, Anna, Tessa, Andrew and James.

Richard Robinson

Sources used to compile this entry: Information from BCMJ Vol.54 No.1 Jan/Feb 2012.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England