“He was a great man,” was some warm praise from a grateful patient in memory of Dr Michael Livingstone, who gave half a century of his life to family practice. Charles Dickens once said that great men are seldom well dressed, and Dr Livingstone—tall, handsome, and patrician in appearance—fulfilled that criterion: mismatched socks and a sweater, which was an antique in the Boer War, also suggested that vanity had no place in his makeup. Dr Livingstone’s greatness lay in his love for medicine, a searching curiosity, great kindness, and a sympathetic ear. He agreed with Michael Balint that listening to a patient’s story is sine qua non for an accurate diagnosis. He was also a well-read intellectual who enjoyed Carl Jung and wanted to unearth any psychological contributions to a patient’s illness.
Dr Livingstone was born in England. His father, Sir Philip Livingstone, was an ophthalmologist in the Royal Air Force who was knighted for his research on night vision in fighter pilots. He studied medicine at Cambridge and St. Thomas’ Hospital and finished his degree at the University of Alberta. He studied surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital for 2 years before choosing family practice in Richmond, where he sometimes cared for several generations of patients.
Dr Livingstone resembled his beloved Anton Chekhov, who was also a busy family doctor and writer, and he kept his mental furniture brightly polished. He wrote four books and 26 papers, all of which are erudite, carefully researched, and sparkle with historical and literary allusions. He had a special interest in whiplash and other spinal injuries and built a reputation as a manipulator for back pain.
Dr Livingstone was also a keen sportsman who enjoyed tennis, skiing, duck hunting (with his father’s old shotgun), and especially cricket. He loved the game, and well into his 60s was a first-class bat and somewhat alarming leg-spin bowler. He met his wife, Diana, at Brockton Cricket Ground. They married in 1954 and had three sons: Peter, John, and Tim. Tim died at age 19 in an accident and is remembered fondly: “… he was a beautiful boy.”
Diana was a nurse who seemed either waist-high in flowers (she was an accomplished gardener) or knee-deep in golden retrievers, who were a cherished part of the family. Diana and Michael would talk happily together for hours. They adored their sons and grandchildren, Philip, Michael, Kaylyn, William, and Sophie.
Diana predeceased Michael by several months. He seemed quite serene to shuffle off this mortal coil as he probably longed to see Diana and Tim again, perhaps in a heaven full of flowers and golden retrievers.
Dr Livingstone was too humble to give advice about this life, but he would probably have said, if pressed, “Live as well as you dare. Play with a straight bat and keep your eyes on the ball.” He was a great man, a gentleman, and a gentle man.
—Christopher Morrant, MBBS, FRCPC
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