Memorable Manitobans: Alan Abraham Klass (1907-2000)
Physician and surgeon.
Born at Ekaterinoslav, Russia in 1907, in 1914 his family moved to Winnipeg, where he would eventually enter the Manitoba Medical College, assisted by the Winnipeg Jewish community. He graduated in 1932 and completed a surgical residency at the Winnipeg General Hospital. Thereafter, he went to the United Kingdom, where he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and worked as a Ship’s Surgeon on the SS Mombassa and the SS Madura, sailing between London and India. He acquired a life-long love of things British, even answering the phone with a British accent. Returning to Winnipeg in 1937, his surgical career was interrupted by the Second World War, when he enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on the same day that war was declared against Germany. He eventually served three years overseas in the United Kingdom and France. He disembarked on Juno Beach on the first day after D-Day and served as a field surgeon in the Normandy campaign.
Returning to Winnipeg and observing the chaotic health systems of the era, he and a small group of local physicians and surgeons established the Mall Medical Group, one of the first models of a Health Maintenence Organization in North America, relying on a unique contract between local clothing manufacturers, unions, and the doctors. He established a reputation as an innovative surgical pioneer and a popular professor at the University of Manitoba. He was an active supporter of the University, and was elected as President of the Alumni Association and elected a member of the Board of Governors, as well as being awarded an honorary degree (1973).
He served as the President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba (1966), President of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of the Manitoba Cancer Foundation, and a member of the Rotary Club, in which he served as the President of the Model United Nations Association. He had many hobbies, some of which he took much too seriously, including an ill-advised venture into the production of kosher salami. Despite a careful study of the requirements of the Canadian government and the Kashruth, all he received for his efforts was a diminished bank balance and a set of exceptionally sharp butcher knives, as well as perhaps the only membership by a practicing surgeon in the Union of Amalgamated Meat Cutters of America. He was a member of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg.
In the early 1970s, Klass was the Chairman of a provincial commission to investigate the cost of pharmaceuticals in Manitoba. The Commission recommended the establishment of the first Pharmacare program in Canada, the precursor of the current program.
He died at Winnipeg on 18 January 2000.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, 22 January 2000, page 50.
This page was prepared by Kris Keen and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 May 2020
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