Dr Cortlandt (Cort) John Gordon Mackenzie, 1920–2013

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 56, No. 6, July August 2014, Page 288 Obituaries

portrait of the late Dr. Mackenzie
Dr Cortlandt (Cort) John Gordon Mackenzie was born on 6 September 1920 in Toronto and raised there. Known as Cort all his life, he graduated—a cadet—from Upper Canada College in Toronto at the start of the Second World War. Entering the war as a corporal in the army, he was persuaded to join the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). After re-mustering to the RCNVR he served most of the war in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the final year of the war he married Jean Barker. 

Following the war Cort attended Queen’s University in Kingston, graduated with his MDCM in 1951, and moved to Victoria to be a general practitioner. In 1954 he began a career with the Ministry of Health as the medical health officer and director of the Peace River Health Unit (Dawson Creek). In 1955 he took his diploma in public health at the University of Toronto, and on his return he and his family moved to Trail, where he became the medical health officer (MHO) and director of the West Kootenay Health Unit. He went on to be acting MHO for the East Kootenay Health Unit for 4 months and later MHO in the Central Vancouver Island Health Unit based in Nanaimo. Dr Mackenzie joined the UBC Faculty of Medicine in the Department of Health Care and Epidemiology in 1963, became the acting chair of the department in 1969, and the department head from 1973 to 1980. From 1975 on, MHOs in BC took the master’s in health sciences at UBC and became part of the UBC Residency Program in Community Health, which was headed by Dr Mackenzie. 

Dr Mackenzie taught every physician who graduated from the UBC School of Medicine public health and community medicine from 1963 to 1985. The UBC School of Population and Public Health’s CJG Mackenzie Prize for Excellence in Teaching is named in his honor. Cort was a wonderful raconteur and, while public health was a hard sell to some physicians, most remember the colorful stories, photos, and enthusiasm he brought back from his travels around the world.

Dr Mackenzie was the president and a leading light of the Family Planning Association of BC, and director and vice-president of the Family Planning Federation of Canada from 1970 to 1974. He played an active role in environmental health issues in BC and elsewhere—as a member of the Pollution Control Board of BC from 1967 and its chair from 1977 to 1982, as chair of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Pesticides and Herbicides (1972–1975), and head of the Task Force on Arsenic in Yellowknife (1977–1979). In 1986 he received the Canadian Public Health Association’s highest honor, the RD Defries Award. 

Dr Mackenzie also consulted and taught extensively overseas, including in Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Australia, and the Cook Islands, even spending 2 years as a professor at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Cort had many avocations, including organizing Unitarian Fellowships, hobby farming with horses, cider making, and wooden boat building. He devoted his retirement to nature conservation and animal welfare causes. Once he retired from playing polo he took up scuba diving, and continued diving well into old age. He was a passionate defender of the marine environment and a founder and chair of the Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society. Cort remained sharp and engaged until the very end. He is survived and sorely missed by his sons, David, Ian, and Alec; grandchildren, Mary, Henry, and Rob; his son’s partner, Andrew; and his daughter-in-law, Marlene.

Cort was happiest when making a difference in people’s lives, and he figured out that a few general public health issues covered most of the bases: Don’t drink your own sewage. Don’t sleep with your dinner. Control pollution. Get vaccinated. Use birth control.

Dr Mackenzie died in his 93rd year in Vancouver on 16 May 2013 after a life well lived. He was a truly great character of his time and changed the way public health was taught and practised in this province.
—John Blatherwick, MD
Chief Medical Health Officer Vancouver (retired)

John Blatherwick, MD,. Dr Cortlandt (Cort) John Gordon Mackenzie, 1920–2013. BCMJ, Vol. 56, No. 6, July, August, 2014, Page(s) 288 - Obituaries.

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