Nfld. & Labrador

Diaries of St. John's physician spanning 87 years digitized in MUN library

Dr. Nigel Rusted's diaries — which include more than 30,000 daily entries that span 87 years — have now been digitized and made public in MUN's libraries.

Nearly 9 decades of diaries give insight into the ephemeral

Nigel Rusted, seen in a 2008 interview with CBC, kept a diary for much of his life. (CBC)

The diaries of one of Memorial University's first students — which include more than 30,000 daily entries that span 87 years — have now been digitized and made public through the university's Digital Archives Initiative.

Dr. Nigel Rusted's diaries were donated to the university by his family, and detail his daily life from his time in Memorial University College's first class in the 1920s, through his career as a physician in St. John's, until his death in 2012.

Dr. Jim Connor, a professor in MUN's faculty of medicine, knew Rusted for about eight years, and has read many of the diary entries. 

"Nigel was a man of character, he was a physician of the old school," Connor said.

"He was a person that you respected, you needed to respect him, and he didn't demand respect, you just gave it to him. He had some pretty high standards when it came to doing things properly, which is good for a surgeon."

The glory of a diary … is it records the everyday.- Dr. Jim Connor

Connor said some of the entries seem mundane, but they are a measure of daily life over nearly nine decades.

"The glory of a diary from a historical point of view is it records the everyday," he said.

"Even if it's just what he did, his routine, who he visited, the cost of things and so on, it gives an insight into other things that otherwise are ephemeral."

Connor said reading entries from Rusted's years at Memorial gave him a view into his friend's early life.

Dr. Jim Connor says Rusted was 'a man of character.' (Paula Gale/CBC)

"Nigel came through as a very sincere, strong-willed physician, but here he is just being a student … he was having a good time," he said.

"He seemed to be going to different movies every afternoon — occasionally classes were slipped in. But it also gives a wonderful insight into what movies were being shown. He also had a little review of each … and of course, this is before talkies."

Detailed diary entries

Rusted was a great record keeper and wrote detailed entries, Connor said, something that proved helpful as he aged.

"It was his way of keeping tabs of things," he said.

"I also think, later in life, it was a tremendous mnemonic, it was a memory jogger. Nigel had a great memory, he was very eloquent, but I'm sure from time to time, he may consult his diary just to confirm … probably he settled a few arguments, too."

Dr. Nigel Rusted was awarded the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Order of Canada for his medical and academic work.

Connor said as Rusted got older, the handwriting of the entries got a bit shakier and he stayed at home more often, but he was still fiercely independent.  

"It's interesting to have a hundred-year-old man make meals for you and carve the roast beef … but he was still travelling around," he said. 

"I mean, he did get a new car when he was in his late 90s, and got his licence renewed."

It gets some of the gravy that makes the meat and potatoes of history more palatable.- Dr. Jim Connor

The entries give an interesting perspective throughout Rusted's life, Connor said, and they make for an interesting read.

"It gets some of the gravy that makes the meat and potatoes of history more palatable," he said.

"He's no longer with us, but his spirit is still present through that written word that he left."

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With files from Weekend AM

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