Kelner, Merrijoy: Robin Badgley As I Remember Him

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Memoir pages are intended to provide a personal recollection of life at the University of Toronto or events in the author's life which he or she deemed significant. For this reason, these entries are entirely the work of the authors and are not subject to the normal fact-checking or editing of Encyclopedia entries. The editors request that the pages be approached accordingly.

Robin Badgley As I Remember Him

Merrijoy Kelner

Institute for Life Course and Aging

 I first met Robin over a long lunch on a beautiful day in May, at an
 attractive restaurant on east 42nd street in New York City. At that time he
 was working at the Milbank Foundation, reviewing current health care
 research for decision makers. It was the spring of 1967 and I was
 completing my Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Toronto. The medical
 faculty there had recently been mandated to set up a Behavioural Science
 program for first year medical students who they believed were badly in need
 of training in how to deal with patients. Robin had been recruited as
 chairman, with the responsibility of developing the program from scratch. He
 needed to assemble a faculty and create a curriculum.

 We talked about the prospect of teaching medical students how society really
 works, and how patients experience their illnesses. The challenge was to
 build a curriculum based on existing social science research that would help
 future doctors to practice in a more humane fashion. Robin was excited about
 the possibilities and as he spoke, I too began to share the vision. By the
 end of that lunch we were agreed that I would join him in this new venture.
 I left with a list of books and articles that Robin recommended so that I
 could become familiar with the literature in a new field called medical
 sociology. At least part of the reason I agreed so readily to join him was
 the esteem that I developed for Robin. He was not only knowledgeable, but
 also gracious and respectful. I was felt that it would be a privilege to
 work with him.

 The original faculty of Behavioural Science gathered in the fall of 1997 in
 an old science building on St Joseph Street, on the far west side of the
 campus. The laboratories and sinks were still in the rooms and as we tried
 ignore them and continue out work, we were aware that we had a long way to
 go to become a legitimate part of the medical faculty. We began with only
 three faculty members and a secretary, Sandy Nahon, who looked after us all
 and seemed to make everything work. In addition to Robin and me, David
 Kemper joined us from his previous faculty post in New York. With
 encouragement and guidance from Robin, we began to identify the concepts we
 thought should provide the basis of our curriculum. Some of the topics we
 considered important included: the notion of the sick role, the
 doctor-patient relationship, the influence of social class on health, the
 implications of mental illness, and the impact of different cultures on both
 healers and patients. Soon others faculty joined us, creating a mixture of
 sociologists and psychologists that included scholars like David Coburn,
 Ilze Kalnins, Peter New, Elizabeth Cape, Catherine Chalin and Rhonda Love.

 At this point in my career I had been lecturing at the university for only
 a year and a half. I had a lot to learn about what to teach, and how to
 teach it. It was invigorating to share in the creation of a new curriculum,
 and the experience was vastly enriched by the knowledge, rigor and
 systematic thoughtfulness that Robin brought to the experience. Those early
 days were a joy. We were full of idealism and optimism. Little did we
 realize that actually teaching medical students would prove to be quite
 another kind of venture; much more difficult than we had anticipated. The
 first year students we encountered were so concerned about passing their
 anatomy and chemistry exams that they has little time or interest in
 learning the kinds of things we wanted them to understand. We persevered for
 many years, and gradually found better ways to get our message across, but I
 never felt that we accomplished everything we initially envisioned.

 Nevertheless, those heady days before we understood how challenging our
 task would be were gloriously interesting and exciting, and it was Robin who
 spearheaded the whole undertaking. Working with him was a pleasure and a
 privilege. I shall always be grateful for the way he mentored me when I was
 just a fledgling academic. He led more by example than by advising, and he
 was always gentle in the way he delivered his suggestions. His scholarly
 approach to every issue, no matter how explosive or emotional, demonstrated
 the importance of going where the evidence points, even though it may not
 agree with one's previous views. is scholarly HI I know there are many
 others who have benefited significantly from their association with Robin
 and share my keen sense of loss now that he is gone.

 When I think about Robin Badgley, I see a cherished colleague who was
 always professional, respectful of others, rigorous in his approach to work,
 kind to those around him and above all, a man of integrity.

December, 2012