Talking with Dr. David Naylor: Winner of the 2018 Friesen Prize
** This episode was originally published on December 6, 2018.
Although he's not yet officially eligible to collect his pension, Dr. David Naylor is already President Emeritus of the University of Toronto — having occupied the office itself for eight turbulent years from 2005 - 2013. Before that, Naylor was Dean of Medicine at U of T, and Chair of the National Advisory Committee on SARS. Right now, he's interim head of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. And he was awarded the 2018 Henry G. Friesen Prize for Health Science Research.
David Naylor spoke with Paul Kennedy about his life and work, and about his Friesen Prize Lecture at the University of Ottawa.
Paul Kennedy on his history with the Friesen Prize Winners
Dr. Naylor is actually the thirteenth Friesen Prize Laureate to be featured on IDEAS. But the series started a bit of a hiccup.
We've been partnered with the Friends of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research since the first prize was presented in 2006. It went to Dr. Joseph Martin, who'd been Dean of the Harvard Medical School, and who'd played a key role in the identification of the gene responsible for Huntington's Disease.
I have very intense memories of that first Friesen Public Lecture. It was a sunny early-autumn afternoon, at the University of Montreal. I met the legendary Henry Friesen backstage just before the lecture started. It felt like I'd somehow been beamed up into some intellectual stratosphere, where giants of medical research magically walked and talked and acted just like normal people.
When Dr. Martin started to deliver his lecture, and his first PowerPoint slide filled the screen behind him, I suddenly realized that he hadn't been told we were hoping to broadcast some version of his lecture on the radio.
The slide depicted an X-ray cross section of a diseased human brain. It was followed by several dozen similar slides, each described in clinical detail, using language understood by neurological specialists. For me it was absolutely impossible. I knew what he was talking about, but I had no idea what he was saying.
When he finished, there was polite applause. I made my way to the podium to shake Dr. Martin's hand, and start the question period.
"How was that?," he whispered.
"I'm sure it was brilliant," I responded, "but there's no way we could ever broadcast it on the radio. Don't worry though. I think I can fix it."
The problem was the PowerPoint, which "doesn't work on the radio."
After he'd answered questions from the audience — most of which used the same specialist language in which he'd delivered the lecture, we agreed to meet at a later date, to record an interview about his life and work.
All of the subsequent Friesen Laureates have also been interviewed. Those conversations have revealed those 'giants of medical research' as real people with real aspirations and dreams and goals — all trying to solve medical problems to help all of humanity.
In many ways, David Naylor delivered a 'perfect' Friesen Lecture. People listening on the radio wouldn't need to see his slides, which were mostly portraits of the medical pioneers that were mentioned in his talk. He spoke directly and clearly, using language that even I could understand. And his clarion call for a new renaissance of Canadian Medical research sounded like something that Henry Friesen — who was, once again, sitting in the front row — could endorse.
**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.