William Boyd

William Boyd


Born: 1885, Portsoy, Scotland

Died: 10 March 1979, Toronto, Canada

Academic Degrees

  • MD: University of Edinburgh, 1908
  • Honorary Degrees from Edinburgh, Saskatchewan, Oslo, Manitoba, The College of Surgeons of Canada, and Queen's University, Ontario

Academic Positions

  • 1914 - 1915: Pathologist to the Royal Hospital, Woverhampton; Royal Army Medical Corps., Scotland
  • 1915 - 1937 Chair of Pathology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
  • 1937 Chair of Pathology, University of Toronto (succeeded O. Klotz) Professor of Pathology, University of British Columbia

Selected Career Highlights

  • Profoundly influenced by his mother who encouraged in him a love of good literature and music.

  • Author of several texts including Surgical Pathology (renamed Pathology for the Surgeon)(1925), Pathology of Internal Diseases (1931) (later called Pathology for the Physician). Then came the worldfamous textbook Pathology/The Introduction to Medical Sciences (which brought a new dimension to the study of pathology and gave so much pleasure to his readers that countless numbers of them felt impelled to write and thank him). All these books were phenomenally successful, and Lea & Febiger testified to this in 1964 when they wrote to say that his royalty check was the largest they had ever paid to one author. "It doesn't matter what book you recommend to the undergraduates, they will all read Boyd" (H.E. Harding). His books were an extraordinary gift of direct, lively and colorful prose; arresting phraseology and inventive prose 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."

  • Was offered many jobs, but when he expressed an interest in Guy's Hospital, his students persuaded him to stay in Manitoba by presenting him with a petition signed by the whole medical school. No need for compulsory attendance at his lectures because he had a flair for holding the attention of his audience. Journal Clubs were held at his home. As a speaker, he had the mastery of rhythm, phrase and timing which endues a text with greater impact than the individual words. In this, as did Dickens, he brought the skills of the heart, the stage and the pulpit to the podium.

  • The museum as a teaching tool was one of his great interests, and he left museums bearing his name in Winnipeg, Toronto, British Columbia and Alabama.

  • The only Canadian (up to this time) to have received the Gold-Headed Cane of the American Association of Pathologists and Bacteriologists. He was presented with the Order of Canada by Roland Michener (1968).

  • Another of his great interests was the Academy of Medicine in Toronto. Generously gave funds when needed. When the new library was built, it seemed natural to give it his name.

  • During the era of prohibition in the USA, his natural popularity was enhanced by the samples of Scot's craftmanship which he brought down in his suitcases under a layer of pathological specimens.

  • He was devoid of all affectations, ill nature or jealousy. He had a sense of humour, but was never flippant and liked some degree of formality. He was prodigal with praise and could rebuke without giving offense. It is doubtful if anyone ever heard him speak ill of another person. When he heard or read something which appealed to him, he would often sit down and write a note of appreciation to the author.

  • For those that admired his stoicism about losing his sight in the last year or two of his life, it is of interest that he had copied Milton's words into his commonplace book/his notebook 65 years before: "There is no misery in being blind; it would be miserable not to be able to bear blindness."

  • "It would indeed be rash for a mere pathologist to venture forth on the uncharted sea of the endocrines, strewn as it is with the wrecks of shattered hypotheses where even the most wary mariner may easily lose his way as he seeks to steer his bark amid the glandular temptations whose siren voices have proved the downfall of many who have gone before."


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