Dr Lindsay McNiven Lawson, 1946–2022

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 64, No. 7, September 2022, Pages 321-322 Obituaries

Dr Lindsay McNiven Lawson

With deep sadness, the family of Dr Lindsay Lawson announces that she died on 9 June 2022 at her home in Victoria of myelofibrosis. She had been attended for several days beforehand by her three children, Andrew Lawson of Burbank, California, and Dr Mark Lawson and Fiona Fiddick, both of Victoria, as well as her husband, Dr David Lawson. Her older brother, Dr Steven Hodge; sister-in-law, Pauline Craig; niece, Alice Hodge; and nephew, Matthew Hodge, also visited from Kirkland, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, during her final days. In addition, she’ll be sorely missed by her daughters-in-law, Samantha Steyns and Sarah Lawson; her son-in-law, Greg Fiddick; and her grandchildren, Liadan, Henry, Rachel, Griffin, and Rhett, as well as cousins here and abroad and her in-laws, Ian and Margaret Lawson.

Lindsay was born in Greenock, Scotland, to George and Kathleen Hodge, who immigrated to Canada in 1947. She grew up in Victoria and graduated from Mount Douglas Secondary School in 1964 after distinguishing herself as a scholar of note as a member of the provincial championship team on the CBC high-school quiz program Reach for the Top. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in honours zoology at the University of Victoria (1968) and her Master of Physiology degree (1970) and medical degree (1974) at McGill University, where she was awarded the Wood Gold Medal for the most outstanding clinical performance by a graduating medical student.

After a 3-year stint in New Jersey to accommodate her husband’s academic journey, she completed her residency in internal medicine in 1979, followed by a 2-year postdoctoral research and clinical fellowship in respiratory medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver. She was appointed as a clinical instructor in 1982 and by 1997 rose to the rank of clinical professor in the Department of Medicine at UBC. Lindsay was an outstanding teacher and received numerous awards, including the Fay Dirks Award for Excellence in Teaching. As it happened, at least two of her former students were involved in her care during her final weeks.

Lindsay’s special areas of interest included the pulmonary complications of HIV and the management of asthma. She was one of the original members of the AIDS care team at St. Paul’s Hospital and saw virtually all the patients with HIV-related pulmonary complications through the 1980s and ’90s, and in so doing provided clinical support for much of the early research of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Her name appears as a coauthor on several of its early scientific publications.

In addition to her busy clinical practice, Lindsay served as medical director of the Medical Short Stay Unit at St. Paul’s Hospital (1994–2010). She was actively involved in several committees of the then-BCMA, served on the Editorial Board of the BC Medical Journal (1994–2011), and was an examiner for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Following her retirement from hospital practice after 33 years at St. Paul’s Hospital, Lindsay continued her traveling clinics in Lillooet and Powell River for her final 3 years of clinical practice. Lindsay’s patients were highly appreciative of her care. One patient of 15 years wrote: “She is . . . one of the kindest, most supportive and courteous people you will ever meet . . . her patient care, communication skills and level of caring are second to none . . . when you are in her hands you are in the best.”

Despite Lindsay’s many academic and professional honors and awards, she completely overlooked them all when she was asked to identify her greatest achievement on the BCMJ’s Proust Questionnaire. Instead she said, “Raising three children to be family-oriented, loving, accomplished adults with the help of my husband” [2012;54:438]. This was especially important to her because of the general disapproval expressed at that time of women who chose to return to work following the birth of their children.

As busy as she was at work, Lindsay always found time to support and encourage her children. On weeknights she helped them with homework, and weekends were routinely devoted to watching soccer, baseball, rugby, and softball games. She even served a term as president of Kerrisdale Little League after some years as a board member and traveled to Australia to watch her younger son play for Canada in the Rugby World Cup in 2003. 

She was the travel agent for her family, and later for herself and David, who enjoyed cruises together. Over the years the family traveled extensively to Hawaii, Disneyland, England, Scotland, Kenya, and Greece, the last two destinations to visit with close family friends, the Cohens. With other close family friends, the Guys, they traveled to the Oregon coast and houseboated on Shuswap Lake. The favorite location for family holidays, however, has been Parksville, where they spent time every summer. For Lindsay, perfect happiness was a family get-together.

Lindsay was an exceptional person. She was highly intelligent, possessed formidable analytical skills and an amazing memory, and had a strong work ethic. During her medical residency she would leave for work early Friday morning and return Monday evening, overnighting at the hospital’s resident quarters. David and Andrew would see her at the hospital over the weekend, hoping the visit wouldn’t be cut short by a call to the ward. Entering medicine at a time when it was predominantly a male profession, Lindsay was an important role model for many young women. She was also highly organized and self-disciplined. Determined to maintain her health and fitness, she worked out at the gym or pool 5 days a week after retiring. She was a loyal friend and maintained relationships at great distances for decades with former classmates and colleagues.

When it came to treating her patients who had AIDS, Lindsay was compassionate, courageous, and nonjudgmental. Before the means of transmission was understood, she spoke to David about her having to accept risks of the unknown in order to treat her patients. When patients were turned away from other hospitals, Lindsay treated them, knowing that their likely diagnosis was a death sentence within 2 years. She stayed in contact with her patients and consoled those whose families had rejected them. She never received more gifts from patients—chocolates, flowers, and art—than she did when she worked with these patients. The grief she experienced with every patient death was apparent even 35 years later when she related her experiences from that time.

Lindsay coped with her disease with fortitude and grace. She refrained from telling most friends and even family about her condition until shortly before she died because she didn’t want people to worry about her. She never complained or shed a tear and expressed gratitude for every caring gesture made to keep her comfortable. Lindsay was a wonderful woman, wife, mother, and physician who will be missed terribly.

Lindsay’s family would like to express their deep appreciation to Dr Chelsey Lane, the BC Cancer Agency staff, and the palliative care team for their compassionate care. In lieu of flowers, donations in Lindsay’s name can be made to Médecins Sans Frontières, whose brave work Lindsay always admired.
—David Lawson


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David M. Lawson, PhD, RPsych. Dr Lindsay McNiven Lawson, 1946–2022. BCMJ, Vol. 64, No. 7, September, 2022, Page(s) 321-322 - Obituaries.

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