Neil Watters
Neil Watters

Obituary of Neil Archibald Watters



Neil Archibald Watters was born on September 14, 1921 and died on September 22, 2020, a week and a day after his 99th birthday. He did a lot with his time.


After going to public school and high school (Oakwood Collegiate) in Toronto, he entered medical school (University of Toronto), and the army, in 1939. (Several medical classmates were among his closest lifelong friends.) He graduated in 1944 and became a captain serving until 1946 at the Crumlin Military Hospital in London, Ontario. There he met Shelagh Dillon, a young physiotherapist who was beautiful inside and out. This was one of the luckiest things to happen to him in his life. Sine qua non.


They married in 1947. Neil trained as a surgeon in the Gallie/Janes program at the University of Toronto until 1951. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Canada) in the same year, and later of the American College of Surgeons.


He and Shelagh moved with their first child Doug to Galt. Shortly after, Jim was born. The family lived in Galt until 1955 when they moved to Toronto and Neil took a staff position at the Wellesley Hospital. Mike was born in 1955 around the time of the move but not on the exact day. Louise was born in 1959.


From then on until his retirement in the mid-1980s, he did many things.


He became the Chief of Surgery at Wellesley Hospital in 1963, a position he held for 21 years; he had already helped engineer its separation from the Toronto General Hospital, and improvement of its nursing school. He also served on the Wellesley board for several years.


At the University of Toronto, among other things, he served as the head of the division of general surgery, professor of surgery, on several committees, both educational and administrative, and in the University Senate.


For the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, he served as chief examiner in surgery, chair of the committee on general surgery, and surveyor of surgical education programs at several universities.


He was the founding chair and later president of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons, as well as a member of its undergraduate education committee.


He served on the board of the Canadian Surgical Research Fund; on the executive committee of the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation; on the council of the Academy of Medicine of Toronto; and on the board and finance committee of the American College of Surgeons.


As a doctor, he had a strong focus on nursing care and outcomes after surgery. In addition to surgery and teaching, as the summary of his activities above demonstrates, he loved the administration and improvement of medical institutions, i.e., persuading, wheedling and cajoling to get things done.


He played football in medical school, and tennis (in doubles or foursomes) until his 80s. He played chess, not cards. He liked to win, and to play games where skill was needed. (His Scottish Baptist ancestors may have been against dancing as well as cards. He won an Arthur Murray package of dancing lessons once. The poor instructor gave up fairly early on, asking “You really don’t like this, do you?”)


He gave up driving his tractor (with inadequate brakes) and chain sawing in his early 90s. His bee keeping licence lapsed when he was 86. (In 1960, he had bought a farm near Toronto. It became his favourite place.)


He was cherished by his neighbours in the country who looked in on the farm after he had to move to Belmont House in Toronto in 2014. He enjoyed the company of his fellow residents there and was well liked. He endured his late life aches and pains with fortitude, stoicism, and grace.


Neil Watters was predeceased by his wife Shelagh, his siblings Jessie, Darroch and Bruce Watters; his in-laws Richard Dillon, Dr. Michael Dillon, and Dr. Diana Johnston; and many friends.


He is survived by patients whom he helped, colleagues whom he taught, and his children Doug Watters, Jim Watters (Patricia), Mike Watters (Terri), and Louise Craig (Burch); his grandchildren Dr. Caitlin Pepperell, Sean Watters, Dr. Sarah Watters, Grant Watters (Macallagh McEvoy), Neil Watters (Haley Harrier), Isaac Watters, and Albert Craig; his great-grandchildren Myrna and Ned Burns; his nieces Kelly Meighen, Ann Dillon, Kate Dillon, Catherine Watters, and Marion Yerbury; his great-nephews Dylan Yerbury, Darwin Yerbury, Kelton Yerbury, Jason Buriak; and his great-niece Lisa Buriak.


His family would like to acknowledge with great appreciation the excellent care he received over the last six years of his life at Belmont House. They were there for him. In particular we would like to thank Gail Walker and her colleagues at Belmont House, and his caregivers Imelda Cale, Aurora De La Pena, Gerty Henson, Valentina Joy Barcelona, and Kurt Abkilan from Home Instead.


In view of the COVID 19 pandemic, there will be no service or celebration at this time. Condolences may be forwarded through Neil Watters was especially interested in conservation, libraries, and student bursaries. Anyone who would like to make a donation to mark his passing is invited to consider charities in these fields. Acts of kindness, consideration or care would also not go amiss.


Neil Watters was not fond of organized religion. But he had to endure prayers by others for him from time to time, including once from an entire convent. Here is one last one: May he rest in peace and rise in glory.