Dr Patrick L. McGeer, 1927–2022

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 64, No. 9, November 2022, Page 405 Obituaries

Dr Patrick L. McGeer

Dr Pat McGeer died peacefully at home surrounded by family and devoted friends on 29 August 2022. Pat was born in Vancouver to James McGeer, a judge, and Ada (Schwengers) McGeer, one of McGill University’s first female graduates and a producer for CBC Radio. In his early years, he was fascinated by chemistry, conducting home experiments with explosives—the local pharmacist had a list of items that Pat and his elder brother Peter were not permitted to buy. Pat went on to study at UBC, graduating with a first-class honors degree in chemistry.

Pat played basketball and was the UBC Thunderbirds’ all-time leading scorer. He represented Canada on the 1948 Olympic team. His team’s most famous exploit was a cliff-hanger defeat of the Harlem Globetrotters, then the most fabled team in the world. Turning down an offer from the NBA’s just-formed Philadelphia Warriors, he went on to pursue his PhD at Princeton.

Pat graduated in 1951, with a thesis that pointed out how radio waves could be used to heat food. Next came a job at DuPont’s experimental research station in Wilmington, Delaware, where he met fellow research chemist Dr Edith Graef, courting her (on a wing and a prayer) with flights in his diminutive Aeronca Champion. They married in April 1954 and moved to Vancouver, where Pat obtained his medical degree from UBC. Edie meanwhile volunteered as an assistant in Dr Bill Gibson’s fledgling neurochemistry lab at UBC. Over dinner she fascinated Pat with stories from the lab, and so after graduation they joined forces, initiating a scientific partnership that would last over 60 years. 

Pat was instrumental in establishing the then fledgling field of neuroscience in Canada, and in the 1960s he founded the UBC Division of Neuroscience, serving as its head for nearly 20 years. Pat and Edie achieved many notable firsts, such as introducing the concept of using neurotransmitter synthetic enzymes as markers for biochemical neuroanatomy and pathology and pioneering the concept of neuroinflammation as a contributor to neurodegeneration, particularly in Alzheimer disease. They co-authored, together with Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles, the first edition of Molecular Neurobiology of the Mammalian Brain.

They had time for fun and family too. Their recycled BC forestry boat was often on Howe Sound, with Pat in the bilge tending the recalcitrant diesel engine. After one breakdown too many, it was retired in favor of cottage life (first on Bowen Island, then on Skaha Lake) and other recreational activities: travel, skiing, and boating in a speedier runabout (with trusted friend and mechanic Joe Mizsak at his side). 

Pat’s interest in politics was driven by his early career at DuPont. In the first of nine campaigns, he won a landslide Point Grey by-election in 1962. As an opposition Liberal member, he wrote a book, Politics in Paradise, laying out a vision of a higher-tech BC for a more prosperous future.

He later recruited his college friend Garde Gardom to run with him in the then two-member seat. They were a dynamic duo, first as opposition Liberals and later in government bench, having joined forces with the Social Credit Party in 1975.

Pat held several cabinet posts within the Social Credit Party and as minister of successive portfolios of Education; Education, Science, and Technology; Universities, Science and Communications; and International Trade. He began North America’s first open university (the Knowledge Network), sponsored an engineering program at Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, encouraged BC’s nascent tech industry with the Discovery Foundation, spurred a natural-gas vehicle industry in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, and was the leading force behind building a teaching hospital at UBC. He also proposed a fixed link to Vancouver Island. 

Pat also played a vital role in the history of the wine industry in BC. As a cabinet minister he upset the local wine industry by criticizing the BC wines of the early 1970s. Our wine producers were upset and challenged him to a blind public tasting of local versus imported wines. In a widely publicized media event, he identified the poorest wines as being from BC. Press headlines praised him for “putting his palate where his mouth is.” A world-renowned BC wine industry followed.

The best description of Pat’s role came from a Province columnist: “The Minister of Magic, the Minister of Fun, The Minister of Everything, but make the province run.” There was magic and certainly fun. What made those years special was the joy and light heart Pat and Garde brought to politics. When Pat was wrongly accused of assaulting a photographer (who had fallen while walking backward), Garde dressed Pat in boxing gloves, shorts, and a robe and introduced him to the House as the “undefeated champion, Kid Video!” And whenever Pat saw an editorial cartoon lampooning him, he got an autographed original from the cartoonist and proudly displayed it.  

Pat’s pride and joy was tennis and his backyard grass tennis court. For over 40 years it was the centre for a burgeoning community of avid tennis players, all of whom were excited to be invited to participate in the annual “Wimbledon West” tournament. Pat played regularly, even into his 95th year.

Though Pat retired from his formal academic position in 1992, he and Edie maintained an active research program. Attracting international attention and acclaim, they collaborated on three books and more than 1000 research papers, documenting discoveries that would lay the foundations for groundbreaking treatments of diseases ranging from Parkinson to Alzheimer disease. Pat returned to the lab full-time with his trademark zest. The discoveries came thick and fast, including the link between Alzheimer disease and neuroinflammation. In 2012 they founded Aurin Biotech, a company dedicated to the development of novel agents to fill the need for safe, effective, and orally available therapeutics for Alzheimer disease. 

Pat received multiple honors, awards, and honorary degrees throughout his life. Both he and Edie were appointed to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. 

Pat is survived by his wife of 68 years, Edie; children, Rick (Karen), Tad, and Tori (Philip); long-time family friend Jane Burnes; and grandchildren, Rory, Owen (Molly), Sean (Alex), Kailee, Liam, and Simone.
—McGeer Family


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McGeer Family. Dr Patrick L. McGeer, 1927–2022. BCMJ, Vol. 64, No. 9, November, 2022, Page(s) 405 - Obituaries.

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