John G. FitzGerald

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Dr. John Gerald "Gerry" FitzGerald (December 9, 1882 in Drayton, Ontario – June 20, 1940) was a Canadian physician and public health specialist who was instrumental in the control of diphtheria, first by producing and freely distributing antitoxin, and then in 1924 by using mass production to enable widespread use of the vaccine devised by Gaston Ramon.

FitzGerald, the son of a pharmacist,[1] attended the University of Toronto Medical School, graduating in 1903. He initially studied psychiatry, and did internships at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Sheppard Pratt before becoming the clinical director and chief pathologist of the Toronto Asylum for the Insane in 1907, where he worked under Charles Kirk Clarke.[2] In 1909, he spent a year at Harvard University studying bacteriology, and in 1910 he married heiress Edna Leonard; they spent their honeymoon traveling Europe, where he worked with Emile Roux at the Pasteur Institute.[2]

In 1913, he became an associate professor of hygiene at the University of Toronto, in which position he prepared Canada's first locally-made rabies vaccine,[3] and in early 1914, he used money from his wife's inheritance to found the University of Toronto Anti-Toxin Laboratories (renamed Connaught Laboratories in 1917), where he led the production of diphtheria vaccines which were distributed for free: "within reach of everyone".[4]

In 1927, FitzGerald founded the University of Toronto's School of Hygiene with sponsorship from the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1931, the Foundation hired him as Scientific Director of their International Health Division (a position he retained until 1934), and in 1932 the University of Toronto named him Dean of Medicine (a position he retained until 1936).[5] In 1936, he spent a year traveling the world, assessing medical schools in 24 countries for the League of Nations.[2]


On June 20, 1940, FitzGerald committed suicide by severing the femoral artery in his thigh. His funeral was held at the University of Toronto's Convocation Hall; Frederick Banting and Charles Best were among his pallbearers.[2]

The University of Toronto's FitzGerald Building, home of several departments associated with the faculty of medicine, is named for him,[6] as is the FitzGerald Academy, a network of hospitals and health agencies providing undergraduate medical training.[7]

In 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

In 2010, FitzGerald's grandson, historian and author James FitzGerald, published the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction-winning What Disturbs Our Blood, a family biography detailing the medical accomplishments of two generations of FitzGeralds, and the mental illnesses which led to their suicides.[8]


  1. ^ Dr. John Gerald FitzGerald Archived 2010-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. at the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, retrieved May 29, 2010
  2. ^ a b c d The Troubled Healer, by James FitzGerald, in UofT Magazine, Spring 2002
  3. ^ Future Health Archives: The Troubled Healer by James FitzGerald, from the Medical Post, archived at Canadians for Health Research ("Future Health"), Winter 2000
  4. ^ Connaught and the Defeat of Diphtheria, by Christopher J. Rutty, Ph.D, originally published in CONNTACT, the Connaught Employee Newsletter, in February 1996 (Vol. 9 No. 1), archived at Health Heritage Research
  5. ^ Great Teachers from our Past at the University of Toronto
  6. ^ The University of Toronto: A History by Martin L. Friedland, 2002, University of Toronto Press, "the FitzGerald building, named for John FitzGerald, founder of the Connaught Laboratories and the School of Hygiene", page 670.
  7. ^ FitzGerald Academy Archived 2010-07-15 at the Wayback Machine. at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine
  8. ^ Turbulent family history fascinating, maddening by Duncan McMonagle at the Winnipeg Free Press, May 15, 2010, retrieved May 29, 2010

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