McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

David Sackett given tribute of laughter

Published: June 23, 2015
John Kelton speaks with Barbara Sackett at tribute to David Sackett
From left: John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, speaks with Barbara Sackett at the tribute celebration for her husband, Dr. David Sackett, who died in May at age 80.

There was lots of laughter, and a few tears, as McMaster University and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine said goodbye to Dr. David L. Sackett this week.

His widow Barbara Sackett, four sons David, Charlie, Andy and Bob and other family members mixed with more than 200 attending the event held at the David Braley Health Sciences Centre downtown.

David L. Sackett
Dr. David Sackett

The tributes highlighted the personal aspects of the professor emeritus of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics who founded Canada's first Department of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics (CE&B). Sackett came to McMaster in 1967, and became known internationally for developing evidence-based medicine, based on scientific evidence and critical appraisal. Although he left in 1994 to join the University of Oxford, he continued a life-long relationship with McMaster, its faculty and staff.  He died in May at age 80.

He was also known as for his intelligence and being larger than life, friendly, kind and fun; and his wife Barbara was thanked for being his accomplice in enjoying life.

McMaster President Emeritus Peter George remembered Sackett as a young risk-taker in a young medical school where risk-taking was the new norm. "CE&B was one of the first fields of distinction that would help build McMaster's reputation nationally and internationally, and David was a leading figure in the McMaster-based movement that helped revolutionize medical research and its clinical application and effectiveness."

Professor Brian Haynes, a student of Sackett who became a close friend and colleague, flourished his Order of Canada pin. "I say David Sackett gave it to me. Of course, I had to do a lot of work, but that speaks to Dave's way of getting things done. He was like Tom Sawyer."

He likened Sackett to a pyramid salesman: "Dave estimates he personally mentored 300 people on how to do sound health care research. If those 300 people did sound research and taught, say, 300 others to do sound research … well, you get the picture that it won't be long before all the health problems are studied and many solved."

Colleague and professor emeritus Jack Hirsh remembered Sackett as chief of medicine for McMaster hospital: "Under his leadership the medical grand rounds were exciting, amusing and informative. The lecture theatre was always packed … David was not only highly creative, but also a superb speaker."

John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, remembered Sackett's imaginary colleague Kilgore Trout who was named in many scholarly papers published by Sackett. "David Sackett, always the subversive, always the anarchist, always the twinkle-eyed rascal delighted in sharing one of the great careers in medicine with a phantom."

Peter Szatmari, who became a colleague and family friend, remembered Sackett coming late to a tutorial group when Szatmari was one of McMaster's early medical students. Finding no chair he laid across the table, listened until he was sure the group knew what it was talking about, and then left. Szatmari remembered too visiting with Sackett in his last days, when he was sure he caught a glimpse of Kilgore Trout sitting by his friend.

John Kelton read a letter he received last year, in which Sackett said: "I'm simply delighted with all what I've accomplished in my career. I have had a wider range of experiences and opportunities than I could have ever imagined working with brilliant, inspiring, loving and fun-loving colleagues. I've been guaranteed immortality through the continuing accomplishments of the young people I've mentored. I am at peace."

Published tributes to
David Sackett

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