A Letter of Appreciation: The Contributions of Dr C.G. Drake
To the Editor:
Dr Charles Drake was never a member of the Editorial Board of Stroke. An official obituary is not anticipated. Accordingly, I ask of the editor-in-chief the acceptance of a short letter of appreciation of his life and the contributions he made to disorders of the cerebral circulation.
Charles George Drake was born in Windsor, Ontario, on July 21, 1920. He died of a massive pulmonary embolus on September 15, 1998, a complication of lung cancer. A memorial tribute held on November 1 was attended by his extended family as well as by hundreds of friends and colleagues from five continents.
Drake graduated in 1944 from the Medical School of The University of Western Ontario, located in the small city of London, Ontario, Canada. Neither the school nor the city were well known for medical contributions at that time, let alone renowned. His first faculty appointment in 1952 coincided with the launching of his practice of neurosurgery. Within 20 years, his skill as a surgeon and his leadership in his profession were such that he was known as a person of exceptional abilities throughout the neurosurgical world. By this time, too, and largely as a result of his own endeavors, his medical school and his city had become synonymous with excellence in the field of treatment for cerebral disorders. He had been elected president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, president of the American College of Surgeons, president of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, and of The Society of Neurological Surgeons.
Among his many honors was the Harvey Cushing Medal of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, The FNG Starr Award of the Canadian Medical Association (its highest award), and the Royal Bank Award (shared with the writer). His province decorated him with the Order of Ontario, and his country appointed him an Officer of the Order of Canada. One month before he died, a special personal ceremony was called to install him as a Companion of the Order of Canada, an honor limited at any one time to 25 persons. The latest companion added to this distinguished roster is Nelson Mandela.
Early in his surgical career, his focus was directed toward improvement of the techniques needed to treat successfully aneurysms of the posterior fossa. Arteriovenous malformations and giant aneurysms were soon added because they, too, presented often as unsolved and daunting challenges. It was a privileged experience to be within the same institution and department and observe at first hand, albeit from the gallery, the development and utilization of the pioneering techniques he applied to previously desperate problems. Patients were referred from the four corners of the world in numbers such that I recall one particular day when he operated successfully upon three individuals afflicted with basilar artery aneurysms. Not many would have the stamina let alone the skill to accomplish this tour de force.
To answer the question commonly put to me, “What made him great?” is no easier than to answer such a question about other extraordinary individuals in the fields of artistry or craftsmanship whose performances have greatly exceeded those of their peers. Why do such individuals stand above the crowd? Neither Michelangelo nor Rodin invented new instruments for their sculptures. Rembrandt and Monet did not invent new paint substances or brushes. There is no simple answer, of course, but all of them, including Drake, had that extra which might only be described as genius. One thing is for sure: they all exhibited dedicated and indeed relentless focus. Charlie Drake never let a problem leave his mind nor be pushed aside by other matters until decisions had been made and appropriate action taken. If his skills could not master a problem he kept coming back to it in his discussions with colleagues and in his own reflections. Then he carefully planned his actions until improvements had emerged in his abilities to cope with the situation. Before his retirement in 1995, his surgical skills had led him to an involvement with 1767 patients afflicted with posterior fossa aneurysms and malformations.
He always had a consuming interest in interdisciplinary collaborations. When he was chief resident in neurosurgery and I was chief resident in neurology, we often made morning rounds together. He firmly held the belief that many disciplines were needed to ensure advancement of understanding and treatment for the afflictions of the nervous system that challenged surgeons. He led the way in his country to help forge a combined medical and surgical department. Neuroradiologists and neuropathologists became voting members of the department. It was upon his insistence that Dr Gerard Debrun, a pioneer in interventional radiology, was enticed to London from Paris. The innovations of endovascular technology spread across North America. He was heavily committed to the development of a new interdisciplinary research institute associated with this medical school.
The writer feels that one of his life’s most rewarding experiences was the opportunity to call Charlie a friend and colleague for 55 years. He never spoke ill of other than scoundrels. Instead of complaining about unpleasantries and irritations of everyday, he just “went quiet.” Always, he took the high road and his integrity was legendary.
Until the very last days of his life, younger colleagues were still asking his counsel and tapping his wisdom about difficult clinical problems. In his final weeks friends flocked to his favorite sitting room, where spirited discussions ensued about golf, fly-fishing, flying, politics, aneurysms, and good wine.
Stephanie Drake, granddaughter to both of us, said of him at the Memorial tribute something which I venture to repeat: “He endured his cancer treatments with a good-humored dignity which left all of us touched and a little awestruck. The ever-stoic Charlie did not retreat into introspection but remained a sponge for knowledge, simply because he always loved learning.”
He will be hard to forget! The world of stroke neurology will remain his debtor.
- Copyright © 1999 by American Heart Association