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Fulfilling a lifelong dream

Widow fulfils late husband’s dream of establishing an endowed award for Western medical students

January 22, 2013

Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream

To those who knew Dr. R. Gibb McGugan, MD’39, his worth was not measured by worldly successes, but by the joy and laughter he brought to those around him. He was a kind, thoughtful man with a sly sense of humour and a passion for medicine.

His untimely death at age 53 was a devastating loss for his family and friends, as well as the medical community. He is remembered, however, through the Dr. R. Gibb McGugan SWOMEN Award held at Foundation Western.

After graduating from Western’s faculty of medicine in 1939, McGugan began working as an operating room intern in London, ON. It was there he met Sara (Sally) Campbell, a circulating nurse and his future wife.

The two married in 1941, just six months before McGugan was deployed to England. As a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was tasked with attending to injured, front-line soldiers. It was a grueling life and there were never enough hours in the day.

Three years passed before McGugan saw his bride again. Yet, for this army doctor, his discharge was cause for concern, not celebration. While in England, he developed acute tuberculosis – a debilitating infection caused by slow-growing bacteria, typically in the lungs.

Upon his return, he was hospitalized for seven years. By the mid-60s, McGugan had the use of just 20 per cent of one of his lungs. He could not finish a short sentence without stopping to catch his breath. Sadly, he died on October 29, 1968.

“I really admired my Uncle Gibb,” said Louise Campbell, McGugan’s niece. “There are people in his situation that would have been whiny, sitting in the corner going ‘poor me’ all their lives, but he didn’t do that. I never heard any bitterness or anger.”

Many years passed and Sally remarried, but she never forgot about something McGugan wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. 

When they were young, McGugan told Sally that someday when his career was established he wanted to endow an award at Western. While he never had the opportunity to do so himself, before she passed away in 2011 she fulfilled that dream on his behalf.   

 “He didn’t get a chance to make his mark on society, but I love that in a little way he is going to be remembered,” said Campbell, who graduated from Western in 1969 with a BA in Journalism. “That was very important to my Aunt Sally.”

By virtue of his intellect and foresight, McGugan recognized the likely shortage of rural physicians – a situation which is now of concern to the Canadian health-care system. In response, he wanted the award to recognize students who plan a career in rural family medicine. 

In keeping with his wishes, the award is given annually to two fourth-year students in the Doctor of Medicine program who have confirmed their participation as a resident in either the Family Medicine Rural/Regional program of Western's Department of Family Medicine or the Postgraduate Medicine Specialty program with a designated Rural/Regional rotation as administered by the Southwestern Ontario Medical Education Network (SWOMEN).

“Attention needs to be paid to people who live quiet, but estimable lives,” said Campbell. “I’m delighted to know his memory is being honoured through this endowment.”

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