1934-1936 William Boyd, Canada (Scotland)

1934-1936 William Boyd

William Boyd


IAMM President 1934-1936

William Boyd was born in Scotland and graduated MD from Edinburgh University in 1908. In 1915 he emigrated to Canada. From 1915 - 1937 he held the Chair of Pathology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, and from 1937- 1950, the Chair of Pathology and Bacteriology at the University of Toronto, and from 1950 – 1954 the Chair of Pathology at the University of British Columbia.

He was profoundly influenced by his mother who encouraged in him a love of good literature and music which was to become evident later in his life when he became ‘The Pathologist with the Silver Tongue and the Golden Pen.’ (a quote from the book ‘William Boyd, Silver Tongue and Golden Pen’ by Jan Carr–Fitzhenry & Whiteside 1993. Markham, Ont.) He wrote several textbooks, all of which were phenomenally successful. (One was translated into 13 languages.)

His most famous textbook was ‘A Textbook of Pathology – An Introduction to Medicine’ (1943). It brought a new dimension to the study of pathology and gave so much pleasure to his readers that countless numbers of them felt compelled to write and thank him. His publisher, Lea & Febiger in 1964 wrote to say that his royalty check was the largest they had ever paid to one author. Many professors of pathology used to say ‘It doesn’t matter what book you recommend to the undergraduates, they will all read Boyd.’ As he says in the Preface to the first edition of this text book, the title reflected his philosophy that the study of pathology ‘forms a common meeting-ground for anatomy, histology, physiology, biochemistry and clinical medicine.’

Elsewhere in the Preface he said ‘It has become the fashion to regard morbid anatomy, both gross and microscopic, as somewhat of an outworn creed, a science as dead as the material with which it deals. But morbid anatomy is not dead and never has been, except in the hands of those whose dull minds would take the breath of life from the most vital subject. When taught by the masters of the past, morbid anatomy, so far from being dead, has been the living framework of a living body.’ [These sentiments are interesting when compared with some of the sentiments prevailing at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st - Editor.]

His books revealed an extraordinary gift of direct, lively and colorful prose and arresting phraseology that encompassed clarity and wit. Readers found it easy to remember colorful passages such as – ‘Of all the ailments which may blow out life’s little candle, heart disease is the chief.’ When he expressed an interest in a job offer from Guy’s Hospital in London, an overwhelming petition, initiated by his students, and signed by the whole medical school persuaded him to stay in Manitoba.

As a speaker he had that mastery of rhythm, phrase and timing which imbues a lecture with greater impact than the individual words. He never needed to make his lectures compulsory for his students. (David Hardwick who was a medical student in Boyd’s last years as Professor of Pathology in Vancouver, testifies to these comments.) The museum as a teaching tool was one of his great passions, and he left museums bearing his name in Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver and Alabama. A number of libraries also bear his name. He was the only Canadian (up to that time) to receive the Gold-Headed Cane of the American Association of Pathologists and Bacteriologists. In 1968 he was presented with the Order of Canada.

During the era of prohibition in the USA, his natural popularity there was enhanced by the samples of Scot’s craftsmanship which he took with him on visits to the US ‘concealed’ in his suitcases under a layer of pathological specimens. His own appreciation of Scotch Whiskey was widely acknowledged.

In the last few years of his life he became blind. He bore this trial with great stoicism. It is of interest that he had copied the blind poet Milton’s words into his notebook 65 years before: ‘There is no misery in being blind; it would be miserable not to be able to bear blindness.’ Although he also had recurrent salivary gland mucinous adenocarcinoma, he co-existed with it from 1947 until his death in 1979.

William Boyd married Enid Christie on June 2, 1919 and they had no children. Enid survived Boyd, dying in 1985.