Obituary: Dr. Richard Goldbloom was an iconic figure in pediatrics in Canada

Dr. Richard Goldbloom, a prominent member of Atlantic Canada’s Jewish community, a leader in Halifax’s medical community, and an iconic figure in pediatric care across the country, died in Halifax on Nov. 19. He was 96.

Goldbloom followed his father’s footsteps: Alton Goldbloom was reportedly Montreal’s first trained pediatrician and a former chief of staff at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Richard would accompany his father on house calls.

Richard’s uncle was a doctor, as was his brother Victor, who went onto a political career in Quebec and as Canada’s commissioner of official languages. Family lore had it that Richard knew he wanted to be a doctor at age six, when he began signing his name “Richard Goldbloom, MD.”

He came to Halifax from Montreal in 1967 to work at the new IWK Hospital for Children. Sick children in Atlantic Canada no longer had to travel west or to the United States for treatment.

Goldbloom was known for heightened listening skills and for teaching that a pediatrician should look beyond obvious symptoms of sickness.

“There’s a lot of body language and facial language that are so important in evaluating a family and in helping to make life better for them,” he told CBC News in 2014. “The child is the one that is brought to you, but often the child is not the real patient.”

Dr. Andrew Lynk, a former student of Goldbloom’s, told CBC News: “He just had that magic about him.”

He was born in Montreal on Dec. 16, 1924 to the late Alton and Annie (Ballon) Goldbloom. He attended Selwyn House School and Lower Canada College before completing an undergraduate degree and medical education at McGill University, his family death notice stated. He met his wife, Ruth, who had grown up in New Waterford, Cape Breton, in Montreal.

He trained as a pediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and at Boston Children’s Hospital. Back in Montreal, he was in private pediatric practice with his father and brother Victor before committing to a full-time academic career at McGill University and the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

In Canada’s Centennial year, he was recruited to be professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at Dalhousie University, and as the inaugural physician-in-chief and director of research at the newly constructed Izaak Walton Killam Hospital for Children. He held these positions for the next 18 years. He also served as Chancellor of Dalhousie University from 2001 to 2007.

Why Halifax? In part, explained Stephen Kimber in a history of IWK Hospital, it was simply that he’d been asked—“and more than just nicely.”

Goldbloom was sitting in his Montreal office one morning in 1967 when the phone rang. It was Chester Stewart, dean of medicine at Dalhousie University. Goldbloom had never heard of him.

“I’m staying at the Ritz,” Stewart began, as Kimber relates in his history. “I came to Montreal specifically to talk with you about an opportunity in Nova Scotia, and I’m not leaving until we do. So when do you have some time?”

Confessed Goldbloom, “my ego has never been massaged to that degree, before or since.”

Goldbloom went on to publish more than 140 scientific research papers in such diverse areas as hematology, nutrition, cystic fibrosis, medical education, and the value of screening for disease.

His textbook Pediatric Clinical Skills has become widely used. He also co-edited the book Preventing Disease: Beyond the Rhetoric, and for many years served as editor of the popular newsletter “Pediatric Notes.” In 2013, he published his autobiography, A Lucky Life.

His death notice listed visiting professorships and distinguished lectureships throughout the world, including the University of Oxford, Shanghai Medical University, Tel Aviv University, and other institutes of higher learning throughout Canada and the United States.

Goldbloom served on the executive of the Medical Research Council of Canada, and from 1984 to 1994, he chaired the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination. His obituary noted that he especially enjoyed chairing the Maritime Rhodes Scholars Selection Committee for 15 years, “as he always relished the presence of young and talented people.”

In non-medical fields, he became president of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. He was the first chair of the Waterfront Development Corporation of Halifax, and founding chair of the Discovery Centre, an interactive children’s museum of science and technology in Halifax.

He was known for playing piano at Kol Nidrei services at Halifax’s Shaar Shalom Synagogue.

He received many honours over his career, including the Order of Canada and Order of Nova Scotia. He was particularly moved when the hospital he led for much of his career named its newest building the Richard B. Goldbloom Pavilion for Research and Clinical Care. In 2016, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

His wife, noted philanthropist Ruth Goldbloom, died in 2012 at the age of 88. The pair founded the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. “Ruth was his energy source and he was forever weakened by her death,” Goldbloom’s obituary stated. “She said the only disease he would ever die of was optimism. His optimism was not fatal but rather a sustaining life force for nine decades.”

Victor Goldbloom, his brother, died in 2016. Richard Goldbloom is survived by his children Alan, Barbara, and David; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.