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Biographical entry Harris, Robert Inkerman (1889 - 1966)

MC 1915 and 1916; Hon FRCS 1949; MB Toronto 1915; FRCS(C); Hon FRCS Ed; Hon FRACS.

1 July 1889
Toronto, Canada
27 June 1966
Banff, Alberta, Canada
Orthopaedic surgeon


Robert Harris was born in Toronto on 1 July 1889, and was educated at the High School, North Bay, and the University of Toronto, where he graduated MB in 1915 and immediately joined the Army. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1915 and a bar to the Military Cross a year later. In August 1917 he was wounded and invalided home.

It was when he was serving somewhat later on the staff of the Davisville Military Hospital that he came under the influence of W E Gallie, who invited him to join the staff of the Hospital for Sick Children, and in 1930 it was again Gallie who asked him to become surgeon to the Toronto General Hospital. In 1940 he was given charge of the new Division of Orthopaedic Surgery there, and it thus came about that he made a memorable contribution to the development of orthopaedic surgery as a specialty in Canada. This was recognized by his appointment in 1941 as consultant surgeon to the Canadian Armed Forces, which enabled him to exert a widespread influence over the training of young general surgeons in the management of injuries, especially of fractures, in service personnel during the second world war. He was a keen and forceful teacher, always, stressing the clinical approach to the problems of orthopaedic surgery.

His pre-eminence was acknowledge in the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of England, Edinburgh and Australasia by the award of the Honorary Fellowships and his ability to fill an ambassadorial role was recognized by his appointment in 1955 as the first Canadian Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professor, when he visited Australia, the Far East, and Great Britain.

In January 1966 the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada invited him to give the first Gallie Lecture. His early and intimate association with Dr Gallie enabled him to do this with great distinction. In February of the same year he received the Distinguished Service Award of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children; and shortly before he died he was made honorary chieftain of the Sarcee Indians, receiving the tribal name "Father of the Straight Child". He died after a heart attack on 27 June 1966 in Banff, Alberta, where he was attending the annual convention of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association, of which he was one of the founding fathers.

He was survived by his wife and three sons, the eldest of whom became a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Ann Roy Coll Surg Eng 1966, 39, 316; Canad Med Assn J 1966, 95, 283].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England