Henry Dunn was the first pediatric neurologist in BC and a pioneer in Canada, being a founder of the Canadian Association of Child Neurologists and its first president.
Brought up in Germany in a Jewish family, he was sent to England as a teenager where he won a scholarship to enter medical school at Cambridge. His clinical training, at the London Hospital, was interrupted when he was interned as an enemy alien during the war. He was sent to a camp in Australia but managed to get back within 2 years. After he finished his training he was recruited as a medical officer in the British Army and had experience in India.
He then specialized in pediatrics and rose to the rank of senior registrar at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. He spent a year in pathology at Babies and Children’s Hospital of New York before coming to Vancouver in 1954 as chief resident in pediatrics. After a brief period in practice he undertook further training in neurology at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, returning as one of the first recruits to the UBC Pediatric Department.
Henry had a distinguished academic career and enjoyed an international reputation. He was a member of numerous professional advisory committees and chairman of several of them, he was president of the Canadian League Against Epilepsy, he was invited to lectureships and visiting professorships (one in Uganda) and to speak in China, and he sat on the editorial board of a Japanese journal. He won McLaughlin and Killam Fellowships, and he received the Ross Award of the Canadian Pediatric Society, the Coady Memorial Medal from the BC Medical Association, and a Career Achievement Award from BC Children’s Hospital’s research division.
He was an excellent teacher and he did important research. The range of topics in his publications was broad, but much of his work dealt with various aspects of developmental impairment. He made fundamental contributions to the understanding of biochemical disorders and genetic factors in causation, some of them amenable to correction. He was the director of a large, nationally funded study of children with low birth weight, extending over nearly 20 years and published as a book. In 1976 he was one of the first to document the ill-effects of maternal smoking on infant development. His first paper was published in 1944 and his last in 2002 (when he was 85 years old).
But it is as a clinician that Henry is most remembered by his colleagues. He was a perfectionist who believed in the most detailed histories and incredibly thorough physical examinations. His reports, extending over several pages, were models of excellence and were perhaps frustrating for students as they demonstrated a standard that seemed impossible to emulate.
Henry was an absolutely charming individual, tolerant of those whose standards fell short of his own. Always polite and considerate, he was loved equally by medical colleagues, nurses and other allied professionals, students, and—perhaps most importantly—by his patients and their parents. He communicated quietly and precisely with them, achieving solid rapport and inspiring lasting trust. He is sorely missed by his wife, Erica, by his two children, and by all who knew him.
—Robert Hill, MD
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