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Biographical entry Thorlakson, Robert Henry (1923 - 2011)

OC 1996; MD Manitoba 1949; FRCS 1953; FRCSC; FACS.

27 November 1923
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
23 February 2011
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Colorectal surgeon and General surgeon


Robert Thorlakson was a leading Winnipeg surgeon. He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of Paul Henrik Thorbjorn Thorlakson, a physician and chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, and his wife Gladys. Robert and his twin brother Ken were raised and educated in Winnipeg. Thorlakson served during the Second World War and went on to study medicine at the University of Manitoba, graduating with his MD in 1949.

He went to the UK for postgraduate work in surgery, and gained his FRCS in 1953. He returned to Canada in 1956 and established a surgical practice at the Winnipeg Clinic, specialising in colorectal surgery. He continued to work there until his death. He was also an associate professor of surgery. He devised and modified a number of surgical operations, and designed and developed 20 surgical instruments.

He was president of the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and the Canadian Medical Association. He was a founding fellow and past president of the Canadian Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed art and music and was an avid reader. He was an active community leader and served on the executives of many organisations. He was a founder and past president of Manitoba Opera, Opera West, the Federation of Professional Opera Companies of Canada and of the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts. He was chair of the building and fundraising committees of the Chinese Cultural and Community Centre of Manitoba and the first recipient of their golden dragon award. He was vice president of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and served on the board of the Manitoba Theatre Centre and Winnipeg Habitat for Humanity.

He received the Canadian Forces decoration. He was made a knight of justice of the Order of St John and an officer of the Order of Canada (1996).

He died in Winnipeg on 23 February 2011 from a heart attack after a morning of surgery and an afternoon of seeing patients. He was 87. He was survived by his wife Deborah.

Sarah Gillam

Sources used to compile this entry: ['Noted city surgeon left lasting legacy' Winnipeg Free Press 27 February 2011 - accessed 29 October 2014; 'Obituary Robert Henry Thorlakson' Winnipeg Free Press 28 February 2011 - accessed 29 October 2014; The Manitoba Historical Society Memorable Manitobans Robert Henry Thorlakson (1923-2011) - accessed 29 October 2014; 'In tribute to Robert H Thorlakson MD FRCSC, Citizen of the Year Award 1989, Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, handout].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England