In Memoriam: V. Michael Whitehead (1934-2016)

Live 2016
Photo courtesy of Dr. David Rosenblatt

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Rosenblatt

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of a McGill leader in the care of children with cancer, Professor V. Michael Whitehead, who died September 18, 2016, at the age of 82.

Dr. Whitehead had deep roots in Montreal and Quebec.  He attended Selwyn House School, where he later would serve on the board, and Bishops’ College.  He completed both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree at Christ’s College, Cambridge, before returning to McGill to attend medical school.  His residency training was in Internal Medicine, followed by clinical and research training in Hematology as a fellow at the Royal Victoria Hospital.  During this time, he discovered that the major form of the vitamin folic acid that circulates in the blood, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, is actually produced in the intestine.

Dr. Whitehead’s first appointment in 1966 was at the Montreal General Hospital in Adult Hematology.  He remained there until 1977, when he made the move that would define his academic future.  He was asked to become Director of Hematology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He served in that capacity with great distinction until 1999.  In 1997, he was named the inaugural Jack Cole Professor in Pediatric Oncology in recognition of both his scientific accomplishments and his involvement in local, national and international research projects.

Dr. Whitehead was a transformational leader at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He was instrumental in increasing the profile of the hospital in the Pediatric Oncology Group, a North American Umbrella group of pediatric oncology centres committed to improving outcomes in children with cancer. He conducted groundbreaking work showing that the chemotherapeutic agent methotrexate could be metabolized by leukemic cells, and that this could affect clinical outcomes. He served as the Scientific Director of the Research Institute of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.  This was a very exciting time with the growth of the Telethon of Stars. It required administrative work within the walls of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and also a serious involvement with the community at large.  In recognition of this, Dr. Whitehead was made an Honorary Governor of the Inter Service Clubs Council and was recognized by the Italian Community of Montreal with the “Lion d’Or Du Mérite.”

A superb clinician, clinician- scientist and administrator, Dr. Whitehead was loved by children, their families and his colleagues. His warmth, kindness and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by all who respected and loved him.

September 29, 2016

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