A century of helping people
“This place is so big now, so confusing,” Dr. Tommy Roos said under his breath as he pushed a trolley full of old photos, diplomas, and other memorabilia.
Dr. Roos was referring to Western University’s campus, which has gone through significant changes since he graduated from medical school in 1940.
“When I was here, it was much smaller,” he said. “There was the arts building, the science building, and the library. That was all.”
Now, 75 years later, Dr. Roos decided that his 100th birthday celebration would not be complete without a trip to the campus where he discovered his love of medicine.
As Dr. Roos’ son Jim Roos and his daughter-in-law Nancy Roos carefully unloaded the trolley, they recounted the stories that went along with each precious item. Many stories revolved around Dr. Roos’ refreshing sense of humor, but the focus of the stories never strayed from the fact that he has dedicated an entire lifetime to helping people.
In the 1930s, Dr. Roos and his childhood friend, Dr. H. Clinton Amacher, made the decision to enroll in medical school together. Even though Toronto’s campus was approximately 15 kilometres closer to his hometown of Hespler, Ontario, he chose Western because it provided more value.
“Western instilled important values in me, such as hard work, empathy and the desire to continue my education,” he explained, adding that it was a very supportive environment. “There was always someone available, day or night, to help you with any troubles you were having.”
Dr. Roos and Dr. Amacher roomed together with a family that lived at 177 Albert Street in London.
Once he was finished medical school, Dr. Roos moved to Erie, Pennsylvania to complete an internship at Hamot Medical Center. In 1942, during the second year of his internship, he received a draft notice from the United States Armed Forces to fight in World War II.
“The notice explained that if I was drafted I would come in as a private, but if I enlisted I could be an officer in the Medical Corps,” Dr. Roos said. He enlisted, and was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to the 134th Medical Battalion.
In the midst of conflict, Dr. Roos married Shirley Read, the daughter of the family he roomed with during medical school, in April 1943. They rented a house in North Carolina and lived there until Dr. Roos’ Battalion went to Great Britain in December 1943.
He arrived in France the following year two weeks after the Normandy landings, and took care of soldiers suffering from battle fatigue — now known as post-traumatic stress disorder — in a field hospital close by.
Dr. Roos was also a part of the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive campaign that took place nearing the end of WWII, and was awarded a bronze star for his service and achievements.
After the war, Dr. Roos and Dr. Amacher teamed up once again to set up a family practice in Erie. They helped numerous patients through their holistic approach to medicine, and delivered thousands of babies.
The two friends practised together until their early 80s when they made the decision to retire together. But Dr. Roos didn’t stay away from medicine for long — he decided to keep working part-time into his early 90s.
“It was important for me to continue doing what I love, which is being able to help people,” he said. “We couldn’t always cure the patients completely, but we could always help them along the way by treating things like high blood pressure, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Even though Dr. Roos worked a significant amount throughout his childhood, Jim Roos explained he has learned some valuable lessons from his father.
“He taught me that it’s important to try and see things through, and to treat people as well as you can,” he said. “He’s also showed me how important it is to do what you like, and to do it well for as long as you can.”
Nancy Roos also described the impact her father-in-law has made on his patients throughout the years.
“Whenever we go out for dinner or to the store, there’s always someone coming up to him to say hello and to thank him,” she said. “He’s certainly led a life of worth and meaning by dedicating his time to doing what he loves, which is helping others.”
Dr. Roos said his advice for the medical students at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is simple: work hard and build relationships.
“Being a doctor is a wonderful job, but you have to work hard at it,” he said. “If you get down, or if you’re having trouble with the work, find a mentor, a senior student or professor that can help you with the problems you’re facing.”
As for his advice on how to live a long, healthy and successful life?
“I’m not dead yet,” he said with a chuckle. “You just need to take things one day at a time.”