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Biographical entry Jackson, Robert Wilson (1932 - 2010)

MD Toronto 1956; FRCSC 1963; Hon FRCS 1995; Hon FRCS Edin.

Toronto, Canada
6 January 2010
Orthopaedic surgeon and Specialist in sports medicine


Robert Wilson 'Bob' Jackson was a pioneer of arthroscopy in North America. He was born in Toronto in 1932 of Scottish parents. He attended the University of Toronto Schools and qualified as a doctor with the University of Toronto MD in 1956. An outstanding athlete as a student, he played Canadian football for the university junior team, but was unable to progress after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament playing lacrosse. No successful treatment was available for such an injury in those days. He was also a successful boxer, but retired when he discovered there was an association with brain damage.

After a rotating internship in Toronto, he completed a year's research into fractures of the tibia, for which he received the International Award of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma. Two years training in general surgery in Toronto and a year of research in Boston followed before he went to England, where he spent 18 months at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and a year in Bristol working for Kenneth Pridie. He was invited to apply for Pridie's post after his death, but was strongly urged to return to Toronto, where he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada in 1963.

His career was shaped in 1964 when he travelled to Tokyo with a McLaughlin travelling fellowship to learn tissue culture techniques, for which it was necessary to learn Japanese in evening classes. At the suggestion of Ian Macnab of Toronto he sought out Masaki Watanabe in Tokyo to assess reports that he was able to derive useful information from examining the knee with an endoscope. Although Watanabe's work was known in the English-speaking world, he was almost unknown in Japan. Without an address it was not easy to make contact with Watanabe, but he was eventually found at the Tokyo Teishin Hospital, which was dedicated to the care of postal workers. Watanabe spoke no English, but agreed to teach Bob Jackson arthroscopy if he would teach him English in return. The two remained firm friends and in 1974 Bob Jackson became founder member and vice president of the International Arthroscopy Association under the presidency of Masaki Watanabe.

In the same year Bob Jackson was appointed consultant to the Canadian Olympic team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he met Sir Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital during the Paraplegic Olympics that followed. There were no Canadian entrants. On his return to Toronto Jackson founded Canada Wheelchair Sports, taking a small team to the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1966 and a much larger Canadian team to the 1968 Paraplegic Olympics in Tel Aviv. He was invited to join the board of the international movement, became vice president in 1972 and ran the 1976 Olympiad for the Disabled in Toronto, where conditions other than paraplegia were included for the first time, perhaps making it the first true Paralympics.

He succeeded Sir Ludwig Guttmann as international president in 1980 and in 1997 was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic movement. He received the Paralympic Order in 2005.

On returning to Toronto from Japan in 1965, after a further six months involved with tissue culture in Boston, Bob Jackson joined the staff at the Toronto General Hospital. There he developed diagnostic arthroscopy and the basic techniques of arthroscopic surgery before the introduction of fibre optic cables, fibre light or endoscopic television. In those days the light source was a small tungsten bulb that would sometimes break within the knee, making it essential to have a second arthroscope available to remove the fragments.

Bob Jackson became chief of orthopaedics at the Toronto Western Hospital in 1976 and a full professor in the University of Toronto in 1982. In 1985 he was appointed chief of staff and surgery at the Orthopaedic and Arthritic Hospital in Toronto until his appointment as chief of orthopaedics at Baylor University Medical Centre in Dallas and professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in 1992.

He lectured widely both in North America and internationally, and was probably responsible more than any other individual for teaching the safe practice of arthroscopic surgery around the world. Those who doubted the potential of arthroscopy, of whom there were many, would be invited to Toronto, where he would entertain them and demonstrate the technique in person. His teaching was clear, reasoned and free of the fanatical zeal sometimes seen in surgical pioneers.

Bob Jackson was a big man, well over 6' tall, with a quiet manner that commanded attention. He was admired for his integrity, decency and humble demeanour, characteristics combined with a sharp but gentle sense of humour.

He married Marilyn in 1961 before they came to England and they were immensely proud of their five children and eight grandchildren. He died on 6 January 2010.

Bob Jackson received many honours. In addition to those already mentioned, these include an Officer of the Order of Canada, the Award of Merit from the City of Toronto, an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons, the Lister Prize in Surgery from the University of Toronto, the founders' medal of the Canadian Orthopaedic Research Society, the JC Kennedy Award for Research in Sports Medicine, the Award for Excellence in Research from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the Jackson-Burrows Medal of the Royal National Orthopaedic Institute and an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

David Dandy

Sources used to compile this entry: [Toronto Star 7 January 2010 - accessed 7 October 2015; Orthopaedics Today February 2010 - accessed 7 October 2015;Arthroscopy March 2010 Vol.26 Issue 3 294-6 - accessed 7 October 2015].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England