Tropical Disease Centre renamed for J.D. MacLean

By McGill Reporter staff

It was perhaps the most fitting tribute to a much beloved and respected McGillian. On March 7, Richard Levin, Dean of Medicine announced that the McGill Centre for Tropical Diseases would be officially renamed the J.D. MacLean Centre for Tropical Diseases at McGill in honour of Dr. John Dick MacLean, who died Jan. 22 of complications following surgery.

MacLean, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine, was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Centre for Tropical Diseases in 1980 and helped grow it from a small clinic to one of the world’s leading centres, and one that oversees a tropical disease clinic, the McGill University Hospital Centre clinical parasitology lab, and the National Reference Centre for Parasitology. He was the Centre’s director at the time of his passing.

Dean Levin made the announcement of the name change during a memorial service at Redpath Hall in which he called MacLean a “teacher, scholar, keen observer and contributor to all around him… [MacLean] was a man who never had an unenthusiastic day in his life.”

Born in Flin Flon, Man., in 1940, MacLean was the son of a military chaplain and spent much of his youth moving from military base to military base. His interest in other cultures was piqued as a teen when he attended a Boy Scout jamboree during which he met other scouts from all over the world.

After earning a medical degree from Queen’s University in 1966, MacLean went to Malaysia to work for Care Medico, frequently hitching rides aboard helicopters flying into the jungle to treat villagers in remote areas.

In 1972, MacLean accepted a job at Nairobi Hospital in Kenya, where he had his wife Meta had their first child.

Ever the globetrotter, MacLean also spent a year at the London School of Tropical Medicine and another in Okinawa, Japan.

Despite never holding a research chair or landing major research grants, MacLean made a name for himself as one of the world’s leading experts in parasitic diseases.

A tireless worker who regularly logged some 55 hours a week on the job, MacLean was renowned for his dogged pursuit of solutions to medical puzzles. It is this relentlessness that helped secure the clinical parasitology lab as part of the Tropical Disease Centre. MacLean believed that the quicker the test results, the quicker the diagnosis and the quicker a remedy could be found. Considered one of the best in North America, the lab is one of the few that operate as part of a tropical disease centre.

In his closing remarks at the memorial service, Dean Levin summed up MacLean’s impact on McGill and the rest of the world. “His colleagues are better people to have known him, his students and residents have been inspired to be better physicians thanks to his wisdom and guidance, and the field of tropical medicine is far more advanced because of him.”