The University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) was saddened to learn of the death of John Cameron, an orthopaedic surgeon who dedicated over 30 years to Varsity Blues and U of T community members with sport and exercise related injuries.
Cameron started out as a fellow of David L. MacIntosh, a pioneer in orthopaedic sport medicine, in 1978 and carried on his legacy of excellence in providing care at U of T’s Athletic Injuries Clinic in the Warren Stevens building (Athletic Centre), which would eventually be renamed the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic and move to a new home in the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.
In an interview for KPE alum magazine Pursuit from 2017, Cameron quipped the Goldring Centre was a prime location for the clinic, not only because of its state-of-the-art reputation, but because the clinic’s staff could watch football games even in inclement weather.
“I don’t think John ever missed a game in the 32 years that he covered football games,” says Doug Richards, KPE associate professor, teaching stream, and former medical director of the MacIntosh Clinic. "When he retired in 2010, we gave him a football jersey with his name and the number 32 on its back to mark his years of football game coverage. It brought a big smile to his face.”
Richards benefitted from Cameron’s mentorship over three decades of his career.
“John was an absolutely fabulous teacher,” he says. “A generation of surgeons who were lucky enough to be his residents and fellows benefitted from his excellence and will carry on his legacy. I learned much of what I know about orthopaedics and sport injuries directly from him.”
More than that, he learned important lessons from Cameron about excellence in clinical care and service to all patients.
“Many surgeons have reputations - on account of the volume of care they provide - of being too brusque, too quick, not explaining enough, lacking empathy, but John was the exact opposite,” says Richards. “He took as much time as was needed with every patient he saw. He really cared for everyone. He listened to them, answered all their questions and explained things clearly to them. He taught me that the Latin meaning of doctor (dottore) is teacher and educating our patients is a critical aspect of what we do.”
At the time, the clinic operated on a first-come-first-served basis and Richards would sometimes stay late in the evening with Cameron until everyone who dropped in was seen.
“I learned from John not to rush, to take as much time as needed to provide the best possible care,” says Richards. “I never gave up that habit and I believe it made me a better caregiver. Working with and learning from John was not only an honour and a privilege, it was a great deal of fun – he was an absolute pleasure to be around.”
Like Richards, Ian Cohen, staff physician at the MacIntosh Clinic, benefitted from Cameron’s mentorship at the onset of his career. He compared watching Cameron operate to watching a very skilled mountain climber, seamlessly flowing.
“There was no wasted movement, everything was purposeful, he never appeared to get stressed and I think that calm demeanor helped those of us in the operating room as well, because he was always in charge and knew what he was doing.”
John Cameron, front row centre, won the slalom race at the 1963 ski championships
Cameron completed both his undergraduate and medical degrees at U of T. He was a Varsity Blues skier, winning three Ts and an intercollegiate championship. Talking to Pursuit magazine in 2017, he shared that his background in intercollegiate sport was one of the reasons he could relate to the student athletes so well.
In the same interview, Cameron recalled the satisfaction of seeing athletes back on the field after surgical interventions.
“In 1993, I had five players on the team who had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repairs done in the MacIntosh Clinic,” he said at the time. “None of them wore braces and we won the Yates Cup and then the Vanier Cup. It was unbelievable!”
In 2018, Cameron was inducted into the U of T Sports Hall of Fame as a builder for his contributions to the Varsity Blues program. He was also the recipient of the John Loudon Award in 2014 for his outstanding services in the advancement of university athletics.
“One aspect of John’s legacy is the service model of excellence at the MacIntosh Clinic,” says Richards. “We have for decades prided ourselves on providing world-class service to all our patients, not just varsity athletes. We take our time, we explain things, we do things properly. John was all about quality, not quantity. He taught us well and will be greatly missed, but his legacy lives on at U of T.”