A Physicians life, well lived – Dr. Bruce L. Cronk

We all need role models. These are people who guide us through our lives by helping us understand the type of people we aspire to become. They may do so by providing wisdom or advice, but mostly they guide by the example of the lives they live. They are precious to us, and particularly so for those aspiring to a career in medicine. A physician’s life is a complex interplay of roles, values and encounters with the human condition in all its variations. To fulfill and balance these roles, and to derive joy and personal satisfaction while doing so, is indeed a great gift. Those among us who do it well are worthy of our admiration and should serve as models for our learners.

Dr. Bruce Cronk, who passed away recently, was certainly one of those people. Although I only had occasion to meet him personally a couple of times, I had opportunity to consult with him in the management of patients, and heard him speak on a number of occasions. His quiet competence, dignified civility, compassion for his patients and ability to connect on a personal level with people of all types were apparent to all who had opportunity to encounter him. Reading the various tributes that have come forward since his passing reaffirms these impressions and paints the picture of a person who was deeply committed to his various communities – his home town, his profession, his university, his faith, his country, indeed the world community. I can think of no better role model for the students and learners at Queen’s, and respectfully provide for them in particular the following tribute with the permission of Dr. Cronk’s family. It is the lived expression of every attribute and “competency” we profess.



1. Image Credit: The Intelligencer, Dr. Bruce Cronk 1923-2015


CRONK, Dr. Lawson Bruce – M.D.C.M., F.R.C.P.C., F.A.C.P, F.A.C.C
March 7, 1923 – January 24, 2015
It is with great sadness that the family of Dr. Lawson Bruce Cronk announces his passing on January 24, 2015 at Belleville, Ontario in his 92nd year. He was predeceased by his dearly beloved parents Dr. George Sampson Cronk and Lillian (Guthrie), and his sister Harriet Simmons.
Bruce was born and raised in Belleville, Ontario. He attended Queen’s University, graduating in Medicine, Class of ’47. Bruce served in the RCAMC in WW II and the RCN(R). From 1947 – 1949 he conducted, on behalf of the Defence Research Board, research in the Eastern Arctic as a member, then leader, of the Queen’s University Arctic Expeditions. While undertaking postgraduate training at the Ottawa Civic Hospital he met his cherished life partner Sylvia Elizabeth Byrnes, and they married in 1949. Bruce continued his medical training, first at Kingston General Hospital, and then at Johns Hopkins Hospital and University, Baltimore, Maryland. He returned to Belleville in 1951 to practice internal medicine, in collaboration with his surgeon father.
Bruce was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. During his practicing career he was Chief of Medicine and president of the medical staff of Belleville General Hospital on recurring occasions, and a consultant to the Picton, Trenton, Campbellford, and Cobourg hospitals, as well as the CFB Trenton base hospital. He was Chairman of the Section of Internal Medicine of the Ontario Medical Association in 1965, and from 1980 to 1985 represented District 6 of the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. He was a member of the Regional Advisory Committee and Committee of Fellowship Affairs, of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He was a life member of the Ontario Medical Association and a Senior Member of the Canadian Medical Association.
Bruce viewed medicine as a ‘calling,’ and firmly believed it could be delivered on no lesser terms. A cornerstone of this philosophy was his tremendous dedication to education and its institutions generally, and medicine in particular. His remarkable support and affection for Queen’s University spanned his adult life. He was permanent president of the Class of Meds ’47, graduating with the Gold medal in Surgery; the W.W. Near and Susan Near Prize for the second highest standing throughout his medical degree program, and the Hanna Washborn Colson Prize for Proficiency in Clinical Diagnosis in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics. He was president of the Queen’s Aesculapian Society (the undergraduate body of the faculty of Medicine), and a member of the Queen’s Alma Matter executive. He was recipient of the Queen’s Tricolour Society Award and played three seasons with the Golden Gaels football team. He was a member of the Faculty of Medicine as a clinical assistant, then lecturer, then Assistant Professor, from 1953 until his retirement in 1988. He was a life member of the Queen’s Grant Hall Society and a member of the Council of Queen’s University. In 2013 Queen’s established the Dr. Bruce Cronk Distinguished Lecture Series in his honour. This endowed annual event is designed to host eminent scholars involved with all areas of medicine.
Closer to home Bruce served on Loyalist College Board of Governors 1975-1979, and in 1993 was awarded Loyalist College’s highest honour, a Diploma in Applied Arts and Technology. He also served as a member of the Board of Governors of Belleville’s Albert College.
Bruce’s community service extended far beyond the schools with walls. From 1965 to present date Bruce and Sylvia sponsored, through Plan International, young children from countries which spanned the globe. As a long-time member of the Quinte Interfaith Refugee Sponsorship Committee, he was instrumental in bringing and establishing families from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Laos, and Kosovo in the Quinte area. He was a Director of Hospice Quinte and of the Museum of Health Care at Kingston; a Trustee of Bridge Street United Church; and a President of the Quinte Branch of the Canadian Red Cross. He served in Community policing; the Canadian Food Grains Bank; and in 1997-98 as President of the Christian Medical Foundation of Canada. On conclusion of his hospital and office practice in 1988, Bruce spent the ensuing 10 years volunteering his medical skills for 5 to 6 months a year in United Church Health Services hospitals located in Newfoundland and in indigenous communities on the north-west coast of British Columbia. Of this decade Bruce said “it was a wonderful time with wonderful people.”
Bruce made a difference, and it was recognized. In 1978 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal and in 1987 the Humanitarian Award of the RCAF Association. He received the Sir William Osler Award of the Christian Medical Foundation (International) in 1990, the prestigious Alumni Achievement Award of Queen’s University in 1992, and although not a Rotarian, a Paul Harris Fellowship from the Foundation of Rotary International in 1994. In 1996 he was recognized by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons “for outstanding service to his community” and in 2004 was nominated by the Canadian Blood Service and received the ‘Volunteer 50+ Award’ by the Province of Ontario, for 63 years of volunteer service in blood donor clinics and 181 official blood donations. In 2009 he was one of eleven residents of Ontario to receive the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship. The citation accompanying this award spoke to his role as a member of a team that pioneered cardiovascular and pulmonary surgery in the Belleville-Kingston area. Bruce was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Bruce’s hobbies ranged from history, to music, to woodworking, to a number of sports – including bicycling, kayaking, windsurfing, skiing and wilderness canoeing. He paddled the Nahanni, Mountain, Natla, Keele, Hood and Mackenzie rivers in the Northwest Territories, and the Dumoine and other rivers in Quebec and Ontario. In recent years he did confess to being content to paddle flat water.
Bruce will be dearly missed by his loving wife Sylvia; devoted children Anne and her husband Bob Freeland, Robert and his wife Patti (Aspinall), and Michael Sam; eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
The Cronk family wishes to thank all of Bruce’s many close friends and colleagues who have been an intrinsic part of the marvelous life he has led and enjoyed.
A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held at Bridge Street United Church, Belleville on Saturday, March 7th, 2015 at 2:00p.m. with Rev. David Mundy officiating.
It was his wish that any donations in his memory be made to Bridge St. United Church, Belleville, Doctors Without Borders, or the charity of your choice.

To our current medical students who are searching for that model of the ideal physician, I would suggest you need look no further. Want to be a great physician and a great citizen? Be like Dr. Cronk.


Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Associate Dean,
Undergraduate Medical Education

1. Image Credit: The Intelligencer  http://www.intelligencer.ca/2015/01/25/dr-bruce-cronk-1923-2015

5 Responses to A Physicians life, well lived – Dr. Bruce L. Cronk

  1. David Walker says:

    Bruce Cronk

    ….. was a kind, thoughtful, humble, very very clever physician. When I thinks about “goodness” in a human being, I think of Bruce. He was loved by all who met him. Spending a few moments with Dr. Cronk made you feel special.

    He was a mentor and teacher for me. I will never forget lonely nights in 1972 when, as a newly licensed MD with just one year of PG training, I was moonlighting in the ER of Belleville General. Dr. Cronk was my backstop. I remember during one of my first shifts I was asked to see a young woman with a migraine who had standing orders for a shot of narcotic thence home. When I saw her I noticed she had a lazy eye and seemed sleepier than most people with migraine (I had seen two!). I was nervous to raise her eye issue with her but had a hunch all was not right so I called Dr. Cronk. I told him what I had noticed and that I had no idea what was going on. He arrived quickly and immediately congratulated me in front of staff and family for cleverly diagnosing a leaking posterior communicating artery aneurysm! Our patient was shipped off to Kingston, was operated on and made a full recovery.

    As a resident I remember seeing a young patient sent to Dr. Henry Dinsdale in consultation. She had a variety of quite mysterious muscular symptoms and in his (usual, thorough) referral note Dr. Cronk mentioned that this case was far too complex for a humble community internist, needed the full weight of the academic centre brought to bear and just wondered if this might be a rare case of McArdle’s syndrome (which none of the housestaff had ever heard of). After very extensive investigation it turned out to be….just that.

    Dr. Cronk and I communicated regularly and saw each other over the years. He would tell me stories about Queen’s medicine in the old days and many about Dr. Ford Connell, whom we both loved and revered.

    After retirement, Bruce worked in many volunteer roles, one of which led to a grand story. He was in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) doing a locum when very bad weather set in. A man developed a strangulated inguinal hernia that required urgent surgery, but transport was impossible. Dr. Cronk realized he would have to operate, not something internists feel very comfortable about. The only other doc was a GP who did anesthesia. So Bruce pulled out an old surgical textbook, went with it to the little OR, called an old surgeon friend in Vancouver, had the phone taped to his ear, and with the man asleep, was walked through the procedure. Bruce said later that it turned out to be a breeze and that the mythology of surgery’s complexity was just that! He told me that his father (a surgeon) would have been proud of him.

    Dr. Bruce Cronk exemplified the characteristics we hold as ideals in the health professions; he cared, profoundly, for those who needed his help. He respected and listened to his patients and let them know he was there for them whatever the circumstances. He was interested in and kind to all he worked with. Despite his awesome talent and reputation he was invariably humble and self-deprecating.

    And he always loved Queen’s.

  2. Tony-thanks for your note reminding us of the many contributions of Dr. Cronk. I would also like the contribution that the Cronk family made to the Department of Medicine (Cardiology) at Queen’s through their funding of of the Cronk Lecture. The inaugural lecture by Dr. Bill Ghali ( U Calgary) in Dec 2014 was attended by Dr Cronk and his family. The 2015 lecture, Chaired by Dr Chris Simpson, will feature Dr Ryan Meili, author of “A Healthy Society” and a prominent and compelling advocate for the social determinants of health (date TBD). This is yet another example of Dr. Cronk’s generosity.

  3. Donald Brunet says:

    Like Dr Walker, I too have fond memories of Dr Bruce Cronk. I met his father a few times too in Belleville General Hospital.
    I consulted him as a teenager in Belleville and he just advised me about my health in a most reassuring way. I was totally impressed with his office setup, which included chest fluoroscopy and the thorough way he assessed my minor health issues. I suppose he sparked an interest in internal medicine in me from that day.

    An a second year medical student observer, I watched him take a history of a patient who had just had a seizure. Even though I was a novice I easily recognized the skill that he showed in evaluating this problem and remember his manner and advice to this patient to this day.

    As a consultant neurologist here, I was always amazed by the referral letters he sent to me – there was literally nothing more to do than confirm his diagnosis and treatment plan. I am sure that people in the Belleville area consider themselves very fortunate to have had a doctor of his abilities readily available to them.

    Our Department of Medicine has an endowed lectureship in his name. This will allow us to continue to cherish the memory of this superb Queen’s doctor for many years to come.

  4. Jeff Robertson says:

    Dear Tony,

    I got the news of Bruce’s death last week from Gary Berezny. Like so many others who were touched by him over his long career, I had a strong personal connection with Bruce. He liked to jokingly refer to himself as “Uncle Elby” (for the “L.B” initials in his name) and in a peculiar way, I adopted him as my own “uncle” at the start of my career. He was the most wise and supportive of mentors …an unflappable and resourceful guide at the most challenging times and always a big -hearted friend whose wonderful sense of humour was as distinctive as his large, flowing handwriting.

    Bruce was truly one of a kind. It was a great privilege to have enjoyed his company.


  5. Ron Wigle says:

    I first met Dr. Bruce Cronk when I was a student on the cardiology service of Drs. Ford Connell and Jack Parker. I was told afterwards that this was not only a doctor I should respect but one that I should try to emulate. As interns on Neurosurg, Dr. Bob Hetherington told us that if Dr. Cronk called we were to answer immediately, accept the patient in transfer and if Dr. Cronk thought the patient needed urgent surgery we were to book the OR and call Dr. Hetherington as soon as the patient arrived in Emerg. He was an Internist highly respected by all family doctors, specialists and subspecialists.
    He was a superb diagnostician. He took extra time to teach , even over the phone and I continued to learn from him even as an experienced clinician on staff at KGH.
    He was an exemplar of the Medical Profession and will be missed by all who knew him.

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