"We are richer for his memory:" Remembering  Dr. Fay Begor

McGill alumnus was awarded Navy Cross posthumously and had a U.S. Navy ship named after him for “his courageous spirit of self-sacrifice”

The legacy of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is world renowned. Contributions to research, teaching, and practice over the decades has been honoured so many times with so many awards it would be an impossible task to identify all of them. However the wartime courage and sacrifice of one Medicine graduate eighty years ago is unique in the 200-year history of the Faculty and University.

Dr. Fay Begor was a Lieutenant (junior grade) in the U.S. NavyWar Record Office collection – McGill University Archives

Fay Begor arrived at McGill from his hometown of Moriah, New York in 1937 after graduation from Union College in Schenectady. An outstanding student, he graduated from McGill in 1941, securing the Lieutenant-Governor’s medal.

While on a ski trip in the Laurentians, Begor met a local woman, Katherine Anne Savage. They were married in August 1940.

When the United States entered World War Two in December 1941, Begor waited to complete his internship at the Montreal General Hospital before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in July 1942. Initially posted to U.S. mainland bases, his request for sea duty was approved and in April 1943, he was posted to the U.S. Marines as the medical officer for Tank Landing Craft Group 22.

On September 4, 1943, this unit was involved in a beach landing of Australian soldiers near Lae, New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea). Fierce air and ground fire from Japanese forces resulted in many casualties. The wounded were brought to the landing craft anchored just offshore where Dr. Begor had set up a casualty treatment station. Despite the ship being under constant aerial attack Dr. Begor stayed at his post until the vessel was struck by a bomb. He was badly wounded and died five days later on September 9. He left behind his wife and a daughter, Anne, who was only 21 months old.

His extraordinary courage and dedication earned Dr. Begor the Navy Cross and the singular honour of having a U.S. Navy ship named for him citing “his courageous spirit of self-sacrifice.” The USS Begor was launched in May 1944 and commissioned in New Orleans in March 1945, both occasions attended by his widow, Katherine Begor. McGill created a brass plaque that was installed in the wardroom. The ship served in various capacities in the Navy until 1962.

Follows in her father’s footsteps

Dr. Fay Begor, daughter Anne, and wife Katherinecourtesy of the Begor family

Dr. Begor’s family remained in Montreal for many years and his daughter followed in her father’s footsteps and graduated from McGill with a BA in 1962, before completing her studies at Harvard University. Dr. Anne Lancashire is currently professor emerita at the University of Toronto. His wife, Katherine, who worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital research laboratories, lived in Montreal until 1992, and passed away in 1999 in Toronto.

Over 5,500 members of the McGill community served in the Second World War with 298 losing their lives in civilian and military service in many countries. Dr. Fay Begor who ventured to Canada from the United States to pursue his passion for medicine left behind enduring legacies in both countries. On campus the Medicine Class of ‘41 donated a display case to the Osler Library to honour the sacrifice of Fay Begor and three classmates in 1971.  Principal Cyril James wrote in 1944 that “We are richer for his memory and humble in the light of his example.”

[The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Anne (Begor) Lancashire in completing this article]

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Judy Mendelsohn
8 months ago

Beautiful article. I have tears in my eyes.

W Wallace Watson
8 months ago

An exemplar of McGill Medicine training for which we should be proud. If the plaque from the wardroom can be located it should be brought back to McGill and displayed in the Medical library. WWW