Wilder G. Penfield
1956, Chicago, IL
Dr. Penfield was a man of many facets. To the reader of this book an enumeration of his medical accomplishments would be redundant and therefore is omitted.
He was born in 1891, at Spokane, Washington, though since 1934 was a naturalized Canadian citizen. At Princeton University, he was an excellent student and a football star. He started one of the first Wilson for President Clubs on the Princeton Campus. In 1914 and 1919, he was a Rhodes scholar and has received three degrees from Oxford University. Interrupting his studies during the first World War, Dr. Penfield served in France the latter part of 1916 as a dresser and was wounded in 1917 while at sea aboard the S. S. Sussex. During his recuperation in England, he had the good fortune to convalesce at the home of Sir William and Lady Osler. The association with Sir William Osier exerted a great influence on our guest in the years that followed. After graduating from the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1918 and spending several years in postgraduate study in Europe, he became associated with Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital in New York. In 1928 he was selected to head the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal. When the Rockefeller Foundation donated $1.25 million to McGill University to establish a Neurological Center to be second- onone on this continent, it was understood that Dr. Penfield would be at its head.
He enjoyed membership in many societies--both on this continent and abroad. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Royal Society of Medicine. He was also an Honorary Fellow of Merton College at Oxford.
Since 1939 he received 14 honorary degrees and was specially honored by having received the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 1943, the United States Medal of Freedom With Silver Palms in 1948, the Chevalier of Legion of Honor in 1950, and in 1953, the pinnacle of awards, the Order of Merit, conferred by Queen Elizabeth II. The Order of Merit is the highest honor that the Queen can confer upon her Commonwealth subjects and is limited to only 24 members. In 1954 he was elected to membership in the Athenaeum Club in London, which is reserved exclusively for men of great accomplishments in the Arts and Science.
Turning to the literary field in 1954, Dr. Penfield wrote "No Other Gods," a fictionalized version of Abraham's search for a monotheistic religion and his leadership of the Hebrew people on the journey to Canaan and a new destiny. When Dr. Penfield visited his mother in Los Angeles in 1935, she had completed a novel on the life of Sarah, wife of Abraham, leader of the Hebrew people. Since she appeared somewhat dissatisfied with her work he offered to take the manuscript with him and join her in authorship. However, she died a few months later. Nothing was done to this manuscript for the following 8 years. In 1943, during the War, Dr. Penfield was in Mesopotamia and read in a private library at Teheran an account of the excavation of Ur. Ten days later he crossed the desert to Ur and 11 years later completed his novel "No Other Gods." He twice visited the site of ancient Ur while writing his book and brought to the recreation of those ancient days the scientist's thoroughness. He also wrote a novel about Hippocrates and, with his usual thoroughness, visited the islands of Greece to obtain first-hand information.
As head of the Montreal Neurological Institute he was like a father, watching and guiding his large international family. Both he and Mrs. Penfield gave each new Fellow, no matter what part of the world he came from, a feeling of belonging. They shared Sundays and holidays--especially Christmas--with the Fellows in the Penfield home, along with their own children.
In conclusion, it is apropos to quote the president of Princeton in conferring on him an honorary degree--"A strong and gentle man with extraordinary dexterity." Dr. Penfield died in April 1976.