Dr Tom Handley died on 9 January 2012 after a 12-year struggle with prostatic cancer. True to character, his wish, as expressed to his family, was for his passing to be quiet, without fanfare and publicity. Notwithstanding that wish, he rightly deserves to be remembered.
Tom Handley received his medical degree from the University of Birmingham, England, in 1959. Subsequent to postgraduate training, he practised as a general practitioner in Birmingham from 1960 to 1966, after which he and his family moved to Vancouver to continue his career.
Tom completed a 6-month residency at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver and wrote his Medical Council of Canada exams, leading to licensure for independent practice in BC in July of 1967. After a year or two of association in practice with a local general practitioner, Tom established his own practice in New Westminster.
His significant clinical and administrative talents, together with his obvious dedication to all aspects of medical practice, were soon recognized, and he became involved in various aspects of medical staff functions at Royal Columbian Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster. This included a year as president of the medical staff at Royal Columbian Hospital in the late 1970s.
He was elected to represent Burnaby, New Westminster, and the Fraser Valley as a member on the Council of the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons. He continued in that position for two 4-year terms, including a year as president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1979–1980.
In 1984 Tom was asked to consider a position at the College as deputy registrar. With some reluctance, Tom left his patients and clinical practice but soon embraced the challenges and responsibilities at the College. After 4 years as deputy registrar, in 1988 Tom became the College’s registrar and continued in that position until his retirement in 2000.
During his time at the College, Tom was a member of the Medical Council of Canada, and of the Executive Committee of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, and was president of the latter organization. His experience and wisdom were recognized by medical regulatory organizations throughout Canada and his sage advice was frequently sought by many.
Tom was a dedicated physician who always promoted the principles of professionalism and medical ethics at every opportunity. Those who knew him will recall that he always kept a folded copy of the CMA Code of Ethics in his inside suit pocket so that it could be referred to and quoted when the occasion demanded it. In his role as registrar, he ardently promoted what he termed “excellence in medical practice” and was intolerant of substandard practice and unprofessional behavior.
In maintaining medical standards, he was unsupportive of most aspects of alternative medicine, which he termed “quackery” and thereby always promoted evidence-based medicine. He was disappointed in what he observed to be a gradual attrition of professional principles and behavior in physicians and frequently made written or verbal pleas for a reversal of this trend.
Tom was a student of history, especially medical history. Those who knew him will recall his calm interjections into a discussion or debate to provide a historical perspective in attempts to resolve the issue.
As registrar, Tom Handley guided the College’s transformation from a relatively small organization involved mainly in medical licensure and complaint management to a multifaceted regulatory body with wide-ranging additional responsibilities in physician assessment, facility accreditation, diagnostic facility oversight, maintenance of competence programs for physicians, credentialing, guidelines and standard establishment, and other emerging regulatory responsibilities.
Notwithstanding the significant administrative responsibilities, Tom remained a family doctor at heart, always promoting the consideration of patient and public need as the primary objective and requirement for a physician and for the College. Tom was unwavering in his and the College’s commitment to act in the public interest and to protect the public from substandard or inappropriate medical practice while at the same time protecting and enhancing what he frequently termed “the honor and dignity of the profession.”
Tom has left behind his wife, Rita, and his son and daughter, grandchildren, and extended family. He will be sorely missed by them, but also by his colleagues and friends. Tom was a mentor to me and many others. He will be missed, but his legacy will remain.
—Morris VanAndel, MD
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Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.
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