Remembering Ian McWhinney

By Jock McKeen and Bennet Wong

When Ian McWhinney passed away September 28, 2012, the world lost one of its dedicated pioneers in medical thought.  There have been outpourings of condolences to his family, and many testimonials acknowledging his deep and lasting influence on the practice of medicine, not just in Canada, but around the world. Indeed, on the website where people could leave comments, many of the messages were not in English!  He was acknowledged as the “Father of Family Medicine” and his textbook is the key source for many practitioners. In his later years, he was given many honorary doctorates and awards, including being made an Officer of the Order of Canada. His induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame was very appropriate to show the importance of this humble man (others in this august body include Wilder Penfield, Terry Fox, William Osler, Charles Best, Norman Bethune, Tommy Douglas and Hans Selye). This is what Ian became to the world.  But to us, he was a longtime special friend. 

He never lost his common touch. He was humble, a human being, who would have happily fit in at The Haven. He lived a life of inclusiveness, always interested in connecting with others, and earnest to learn other points of view. His philosophical mind was clear, and astonishingly vast. Those who really listened carefully to him learned a transformative vision they could adapt to their own practices and personal lives.

Ian visited us in our home in 2006, where the accompanying photograph with Jock was taken. He was by this time 80 years old.  His mind was clear, his feelings came readily, and he was enthusiastic to see what Ben and I had accomplished in our collaboration. He “got us” immediately, on many levels.  He celebrated our friendship, and approved of the idea of health and healing occurring in a growth centre such as The Haven, beyond the definitions of traditional medical practice. We had far-reaching discussions about global medicine and intercultural issues. Amidst it all, we experienced his gentle wisdom, and his loving.

Following this visit, Ian wrote a testimonial about our work, focusing on our then recently published A Book About Health and Happiness.  We have excerpted from this testimonial on the Haven website, and on the book jacket.  We reproduce it below this article, in its entirety.

We are dedicating the upcoming new edition of A Manual For Life to his memory.

In memory of Ian McWhinney




Ian McWhinney’s Testimonial about Jock McKeen & Bennet Wong

In 1968, Jock McKeen was a medical student at the University of Western Ontario. In the same year, I was appointed to the new chair of Family Medicine at Western. Jock stood out as a student who was different. He thought for himself and, even in those days, was critical of the way medicine was taught.

I was also seen as different. Never before had there been a professor of Family Medicine in Canada, and I was introducing new approaches to teaching. For me, Jock was like a breath of fresh air, an original thinker, who was open to new ways of teaching and learning. I was at times unsure of myself, and Jock’s validation meant a lot to me.

Once he graduated, our ways parted, but I managed to follow his career through mutual acquaintances. Then, Jock and his partner, Bennet, sent me their book, Health and Happiness. The book is full of wisdom, presenting fresh insights into health, illness, healing, and communication, which ring true to human nature and to science.

Jock and Bennet’s courageous decision to study their relationship with complete honesty has given us a whole new outlook on relationships. I have a feeling that this is the beginning of a new era for humankind and for medicine.


Ian McWhinney, O.C., M.D., Professor Emeritus
Department of Family Medicine
The University of Western Ontario


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