Western University community honours passing of local sports medicine pioneer

Image of Dr. Peter FowlerBy Communications

Dr. Peter John Fowler, MD’64, a visionary sports medicine pioneer, and co-founder of the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic, passed away on November 16, 2022. He was 84. 

Dr. Fowler was an internationally renowned orthopedic surgeon and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Surgery at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. He also served as Chief Medical Officer to Canadian National teams at Commonwealth and Olympic Games throughout his career.

He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2018 for his contributions to the development of sport medicine in Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, recognizing his achievements as a surgeon, educator and researcher.

“Our community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Fowler,” said Dr. John Yoo, Dean of Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “Pete had an unmatched enthusiasm and passion for teaching, and it’s no exaggeration to say surgeons around the world learned leading-edge techniques from him. As an educator, a mentor, a researcher and a world-recognized clinician, he was admired and respected. He will be missed.”

Dr. Fowler began his career as the first orthopedic surgical resident at Western University under the mentorship of the late Dr. Jack Kennedy. Through this partnership, Dr. Fowler developed and perfected the surgical techniques and rehabilitation using an arthroscope that he would become famous for in the years to come. Together with Dr. Kennedy, they began a small clinic in 1974 that would later become synonymous with athletic health and rehabilitation as the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic.

The clinic – which is deeply connected with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at Western University through its support of research and learning opportunities – would go on to become one of the largest, most comprehensive sport medicine clinics in North America and the destination for elite athletes and weekend warriors from around the world.

“Dr. Fowler will be greatly missed in the Faculty of Health Sciences,” said Jayne Garland, Dean of the Faculty. “He was a ‘gentle giant’ who was deeply committed to interprofessional care. FHS is honoured to partner with the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic in education, research and clinical care. His legacy will live on for generations.”

Once a talented Western student athlete himself, Dr. Fowler’s passion for Western Mustangs sports continued through his career-long connection to coaches and student athletes. In 2019, he was enshrined in the Mustangs Hall of Fame as a lifetime achievement recipient.

“The Mustangs community is indebted to Dr. Fowler’s contributions to the success of our teams and student athletes for over 40 years,” said Christine Stapleton, Director of Sports & Recreation at Western. “The connection we have with the world-class Fowler Kennedy clinic is very unique, close and collaborative and a big reason for the success of our teams each year.”

Dr. Robert Litchfield is a Professor in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Medical Director, Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic: “Many former trainees from around the world state that Pete was like a father to them. They learned more than how to fix knees, but also how to talk with patients and be a good doctor, husband and father. Pete has left an incredible legacy that will live on in the hands and voices of the hundreds of surgeons around the world he has taught,” he said.

Always eager to share knowledge with his peers, Dr. Fowler also played an important research role.

“In addition to being a pioneer in the rehabilitation of elite and amateur athletes, Dr. Fowler was a prolific and highly regarded researcher, whose work put Western on the map in the field of sport medicine,” said Alan Shepard, President of Western University.

Fowler published several hundred peer-reviewed papers and dozens of book chapters and was awarded the Canadian Institute for Health-Canadian Medical Association Journal Top Achievements in Health Research for his foundational 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing knee arthroscopy to non-operative care for knee arthritis.

Dr. Fowler was recognized for his achievements with numerous appointments and honours. He played a role as the founding member and president of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine and received the Sport Medicine Council of Canada lifetime achievement award and the inaugural Western Alumni Professional Achievement Award. He also served as president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sport Medicine, one of only two Canadians to hold this position to date and was the first president of the International Society of Arthroscopy and Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (ISAKOS), one of the largest and most influential sport medicine societies internationally.

Dr. Fowler was awarded the Doctor of Science, honoris causa from Western University in 2008.

“Peter was a legendary figure here at Western. He and his family were among the first to welcome me and my family to London when we arrived here, and I’m so thrilled that I had the chance to get to know him,” said Shepard. “He was incredibly generous with his time and always eager to use his own success to lift those around him. On behalf of the university community, I offer my heartfelt condolences to his wife Libby and their children Megan, Tim, Cam, and Pete Jr.”