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Friday February 1, 2013

Cyril Isaac Woolf

Husband, father, surgeon, scholar, pianist. Born May 27, 1930, in London, died Oct. 3, 2012, in Winnipeg of a stroke, aged 82

Cyril did not originally intend to become a doctor, but he embraced his accidental vocation with vigour and exceptional thoughtfulness. As a child, he had imagined a career in aviation engineering or in music, his lifelong passion.

Raised in London as an Orthodox Jew, he followed the news from Europe with predictable intensity and sorrow. His family survived the bombing of their East End home, and celebrated when Cyril's father, one of the first outsiders allowed into France after the fall of the Vichy regime, was able to locate the few surviving family members who had been hidden during the occupation.

After the war, Cyril studied German language and literature in an attempt to understand how Weimar culture and politics had evolved into Nazism. He was to keep his German up for the rest of his life. By the mid-1950s, he had found his way into medicine and planned to emphasize research. But first he had to complete his national service, which he opted to do as a medical officer in occupied Germany.

There, he met Margaret Gibson, a British army nurse, who was to become his wife. (Their courtship was somewhat hastened by Margaret's imminent posting to Suez during the crisis of 1956.)

Cyril and Margaret remained happily married for 56 years. They had a daughter, Caroline (sadly, stillborn) and two sons, Daniel and Jeremy.

After training as an ear, nose and throat specialist, Cyril moved his family first to Chicago, where he and Margaret objected to the segregation and the weather, and then to Winnipeg. Margaret had fond memories of a summer spent there as a wartime evacuee. Intending to stay a few years and then return to England, the family never left.

The ambitious young researcher who had published articles on original techniques in the management of nasal hemorrhage, among other topics, had become a successful practising physician. A practice is exactly what medicine was to Cyril: He was committed to the care of his patients and the training of resident doctors - some of whom, facing a tricky operation, still ask themselves, "What would Cyril do?"

He also devoted time to volunteer work, especially in the Northwest Territories, where he made numerous visits to tend to the ear problems of indigenous children (and once, with other visiting doctors, operated on the infected wounds of an imperfectly tranquillized polar bear).

In retirement, Cyril poured his free time into music, buying a concert grand piano and building a new house around it, and his four grandchildren (even though he stubbornly refused to learn to Skype with them between visits).

Always quick-tempered, Cyril never learned to suffer fools gladly, but he retained a self-deprecating wit even as his health declined. He insisted on his independence, remaining to the last a man whose vocation was the care of others (in this case Margaret, whose frail health he managed with great devotion).

Daniel Woolf is Cyril's son.

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