Memorable Manitobans: Harry Medovy (1904-1995)
He was a world renowned pediatrician who began a crusade in the 1950s to stop young people from smoking. As part of his campaign, he targeted television personalities who, while on air, stopped repeatedly to light cigarettes. Dr. Medovy called on the public to write to celebrities and admonish them for smoking. One of these personalities was Nathan Cohen, host of the CBC’s 1950s show Fighting Words, found out just how passionate Dr. Medovy could be on the subject. He confronted Mr. Cohen on air warning him that he was sending out a bad message. Mr. Cohen quit smoking.
Throughout his lengthy career, Dr. Medovy remained devoted to the welfare of children. He was one of the first members of the medical community to urge parents to take steps to prevent small children from accidentally poisoning themselves with household products. He advocated the addition of vitamin C to milk and in 1950 he warned those living in rural communities that water from shallow wells caused blue babies because of the water’s high concentrations of nitrate. Two of his publications were “Blue Babies and Well Water” and “Cigarette Smoking, Lung Cancer and the Medical Profession’s Responsibilities.”
He was also active in the drive to get the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg built. For his efforts as a children’s advocate, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1990. Mr. Medovy received the Prowse Award in clinical research on diabetes in children, and served as President of the Society of Canadian Pediatricians.
Born in Russia, he was one year old when his family moved to Canada to escape persecution against Jews. His parents settled in Winnipeg and he studied medicine at the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1928. He set up practice as a pediatrician in 1930, joined the staff of Children’s Hospital in 1933, and became Head of the Pediatrics Department at the University of Manitoba in 1954, a position he held until 1970. He has also served as Pediatrician-in-Chief at the Winnipeg General Hospital, where he also assumed duties as Director of Nurseries until his retirement in 1970.
When he quit practicing medicine, he became a much sought after lecturer and travelled the world. He was a musician who played his grand piano daily. He had one criterion for choosing which speaking engagement to accept, and that was whether there were concerts in that city he could attend.
He wrote A Vision Fulfilled, an account of the history of the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital (1979). In 1977, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 8 January 2018