Volume 92, Issue 18

Friday, October 2, 1998

homing in


Girvin goes from gridiron to brain surgery

Photo courtesy of W Club

IF I CALCULATED IT CORRECTLY I SHOULD HAVE JUST ENOUGH TIME TO WORK ON THE CADAVER AT HALFTIME. Dr. John Girvin juggled his schedule while at Western to take medical studies, swim varsity and captain the football and basketball team.

By Ian Ross

Gazette Staff

John Girvin sits atop University Hospital on the 10th floor of his new office as the acting vice-president of the London Health Sciences Centre's medical staff, looking down on students rushing off to class.

It has been 40 years for the practising neurosurgeon since he last picked up the pace to beat the chimes of the Middlesex College clock tower – yet he remembers his time at Western with fond and vivid memories.

Between 1952 and 1958, Girvin never missed a chance to take in the full Western experience. On top of his medical studies, the six-foot-five student balanced his time with the Mustang varsity football, basketball and swim teams – a feat unheard of with today's athletes.

"At the time, I thought athletes had the advantage in class over students not in our situation," Girvin said. "In sports we learned to utilize our time more. We would come home from practice and do homework."

Girvin earned two first colours with the swim squad and four with the basketball team which he was named captain of in his last year.

Another four first colours were earned starring with the football team at quarterback and offensive end. Playing under coaching legend John Metras, he captained the Mustangs to a perfect 8-0 record in 1957 and the Yates Cup provincial title – the highest level of play at this time.

"People would recognize me on the bus," he recalled. "They would come over and ask – why did you run this play or throw that pass? It was very common."

Girvin left Western in 1958 to pursue his PhD at McGill University. From that point he travelled to Montreal, Cleveland and Glasglow, Scotland, climbing the ladder in his specialized field.

His return to London can be credited to the late Charles Drake. In his last year as a resident, a young and enthusiastic Girvin returned to University Hospital to work for Drake.

"He was one of those people who was a role model," Girvin said of his mentor who passed away only two weeks ago. "Those that were interested in the field gravitated towards his enthusiasm for neurosurgery."

From there on, Girvin split his time between London's Victoria and University Hospitals, rising to the position of chair of nuerosurgery at University Hospital.

Now looking out from the other side of a mentoring process, Girvin smiles with the idea he has taken on the role with his residents which he had looked to Drake for decades ago.

"I think everyone enjoys the rapport with their residents," the 64-year-old doctor said. "It is part of the re-energizing process with meeting and teaching good, bright graduate students."

Long removed from the hard courts and playing fields, there is no question sports are still an important aspect of Girvin's lifestyle. There is no sports memorabilia cluttering his office – the proof is more subtle but still visible. Sitting on his bookshelf between the Hypothalamic-Pituatary-Adrenalaxis Revisited and Brian Injury & Recovery medical texts is a small paperback called I'd rather be a Yankee by John Tullius.

A book that describes a different time for sports.

"Back then everyone was still in it for the game and loyalty to the team. Now it is the business man that plays," Girvin quipped.

He also reflected that it was a different time for football at Western. He illustrated crowds of spectators at every game in the 12,000 to 15,000 range at a university that had an enrollment of less than 3,000. Few Western students were willing to sacrifice their Saturday afternoon football game.

"What happened between then and now, I don't know."

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998