Celebration of a Life
April 15, 1936 – November 16, 2006
By Fred Sheftell, MD, on behalf of his friends and colleagues in the international community of headache medicine.
It is truly an honor to be asked by Catherine, John’s beloved wife, to deliver this celebration of his life and I do so on behalf of his headache friends and colleagues gathered here today and those from around the world who are here in spirit. However, this is one speech I never thought I would or have ever wanted to make. That said, it can be delivered in just eight words: “John Edmeads was a great and old soul.” Leo Rosten in the Joys of Yiddish defines the world “mensch” as follows: “Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to be a ‘real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”
To those who knew him, no explanation is necessary. To those who didn’t, no explanation is possible.
I met John over a quarter century ago at a meeting of the then American Association for the Study of Headache (now the American Headache Society). I remember his warmth, his total lack of pretension and how comfortable he made me feel. Over the years that we knew each other we shared podiums, advisory boards, many joint projects, travel and I never stopped looking forward to seeing him when opportunities would arise. His smile, handshake and even hugs were always genuine and made me feel better to know him, to be with him, and to be regarded as a friend. There was always an open invitation to John and Catherine’s home, and again one felt welcomed, and I’d even say cherished.
And didn’t he make us all feel special when we were with him?
From James Lance of Australia, “I would be grateful if you would include in your eulogy my longstanding admiration for John and his eternally cheerful and positive approach to life. His optimism shone through even when I telephoned him after the diagnosis of his illness. I have known him for over 40 years and have had such please in his company over this time. We have trodden the boards together on many occasions, once on a whistle-stop tour across Canada. He was always a great companion and a truly good man in every way.”
He faced illness and death in the same manner in which he faced life: with strength, courage, dignity, class, and of course, humor. I called him shortly after his first hospitalization to offer words of support and encouragement and to tell him how important and beloved he was by me, my wife Karen, and so many throughout the world. After our conversation, I recognized several characteristics that so depicted his character and style. Firstly, I think he was more supportive and reassuring towards me and my sorrow than I might have been towards him. Secondly, the astute and gifted clinician accurately described his presenting history, symptoms, current status, treatment plan and prognosis. Thirdly, his courage and optimism were astounding. To paraphrase, “You know, Fred, I’m going to beat this thing. I have too much to live for: a great life and a woman who is the love of my life!” Finally, his wit was there in full force. I told him I would call Catherine when we finished our conversation. He thanked me and said “Please don’t call her after 10 p.m….she’ll think it’s the hospital telling her I’m dead!” Typical John. Another example of his quick wit as described by Keith Campbell, who followed John as editor of Headache. ” I was moderating a session at AHS or IHS and John was the speaker. He started to cough repeatedly. Realizing the podium did not have a glass of water, I took one from the moderator’s table. As I approached John he looked up and said, ‘Thank you, but I’m thirsty and not dirty!'”
John was known and is mourned by so many around the world. His reputation and contributions to our knowledge of headaches are immeasurable. He was a true renaissance man. He was a brilliant and astute clinician, a teacher, a researcher, a mentor, a great intellect, a humorist, a historian, writer, editor, debater, expert witness, administrator, humorist, and the most valued and talented lecturer in our field in the world. John was a several time winner of the much coveted “Silver Shovel Award” at Sunnybrook, therefore not another lecturer in the world did not dread following one of John’s lectures! If we had the misfortune to be in that unfortunate position all of us opened with, “Following John Edmeads is no easy task” or some such remark. Mo Leven recalls asking him if it was all right to borrow some of his thoughts and concepts. He replied, “Of course not Mo! I’m grateful you liked the lectures well enough to borrow from them.” Mo went on to say, “Of course I am the one who feels grateful for the privilege of having known and learned from this wonderful person.”
John was not stingy with his knowledge. He taught us, and he showed us. There were so many people that he taught and mentored. How he loved his students, residents and fellows. He spawned some of the greatest minds in headache today, who were so inspired and touched by this man. John was the thought leader in regarding headache in Canada and encouraged so many across the country to become involved with headache—a frowned upon neurological disorder and subspecialty. He taught and encouraged colleagues from eastern to western Canada including Allan Purdy, Bill Pryce-Phillips, Marek Gawel, Werner Becker and Gordon Robinson to name but a few. To quote Gordon Robinson, who traveled here today from Vancouver, “As you know John meant a lot to me and was instrumental in my decision to devote my clinical practice to headache. He was a role model for all of us. Many of my fondest memories were of our get-togethers where John would have us in tears of laughter with his seemingly endless collections of stories.” Many will remember his story where Bo Derek was part of the punchline, and if I was there I was always the butt of that story. I never minded.
Each of us, in our minds and hearts knows how fortunate we were to share a few moments on this earth with him.
Among many of the positions he held was President of the American Headache Society, the first Canadian to hold that position. He served during a time of a difficult transition in the history of the society. I think many who were around at the time would agree that the society was indeed fortunate to have John at the helm and few if any could have done it better. He also held the position of editor of our Journal, Headache, a time consuming and unfortunately sometimes thankless job. Under his watch the Journal thrived and its reputation was greatly enhanced setting a challenge to those who would follow him. Amongst numerous awards, John was a recipient of the John R. Graham Award for International Leadership in Research and Education in the field of Headache from our Society.
As many of you know, John himself was a migraineur (as is Catherine), which clearly gave him a heightened sense of compassion for fellow sufferers. Herb Markley, a headache specialist from the states, said, “I am deeply devastated at this loss, so quick and deep, like a knife wound. Some of my very first memories of the headache specialist’s world include John and Joel Saper sitting behind me at Scottsdale. Joel asked John if his migraine was still bad, and John replied, ‘Yes, thank you, Joel, it is still flapping its black bat-like wings behind my brow.’ This was my first clue that migraine must truly be a serious and hard-to-treat illness if even the Dean of Headache Mavens could not control them in himself. He will be missed beyond my imagination.”
John’s takes on so many subjects related to headache disorders were unique, creative, thought-provoking, and of course eminently quotable. Consider the titles of his lectures on the therapy of migraine: “From Magic to Molecule”, “From Trepan to Triptan” and other such fascinating titles. We were absolutely enchanted as he took us through hundreds, if not thousands of years of the history of medicine and headache. Who else could speak on the classification of headache disorders and keep us fascinated and listening? Some of his typical quotes were his definition of an expert, “Someone who comes from more than 50 miles away with slides” and “Most lectures are characterized by the information on the slides going from the mouth of the lecturer to the ears of the listener without going through the minds of either!” On Post-traumatic whiplash disorders, “The extent of the injury and disability depends on the kind of car the driver sees in the rearview mirror: a Ford or Mercedes.” Finally on evidenced-based medicine, “Those who practice by clinical experience alone run the risk of repeating their own mistakes. Those who practice by evidence alone run the risk of repeating other people’s mistakes!”
With John, what you saw was what you got. He lived without pretense. Although what we’ve lost is tremendous, what he gave us is immeasurable. To quote from Bill Pryce-Phillips, “I recall St. Augustine’s words on Friendship: ‘To talk and to laugh with mutual concessions; to jest and to be solemn, to dissent from each other without offense, to teach each other somewhat, or somewhat to learn—to expect those absent with impatience and to embrace their return with joy.’ and think: How poignantly have we all lost a true and dear friend!”
It will be our privilege to present the American Headache Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award to John posthumously. In addition, there is a proposal that will come before the Society’s Board that will keep John’s memory, name, and contributions in perpetuatum. With the help of Jonathan Gladstone, we had the first get together of the Society’s Young Headache Professionals group that will consist of residents, fellows, and young practitioners who have demonstrated interest, enthusiasm, and talent in clinical skills and research. John so loved, enjoyed, and took pride in his students, residents, and fellows that we thought it appropriate to propose that it be named the “John Edmeads Young Headache Professional Group.” From Rose Giammarco, “…when I had dinner with John and Catherine the night before he was admitted 2 weeks ago, I did ask him what he felt his greatest accomplishment in life was. He replied without hesitation, ‘his students’, the ones that followed in his footsteps. No doubt people like David, of whom he is most proud. How modest he was. To continue to drive to Hamilton once a month to see 3 or 4 patients a day with me in the clinic, I could never quite figure out his motivation for doing that. I will miss him.” I think I can help with that Rose…his love and pride in you and the opportunity to see patients.
From Ivy Fettes, who was our conduit and such support to John and Catherine over these trying months, “The illness, suffering and death of our colleague and friend John Edmeads has been a very sobering experience. But there has been a golden light, and that has been you. Over the past several weeks considerable love, friendship, prayers and heartfelt worry and good wishes have flowed among the Headache community. John was very well loved and highly admired. He was our role model, mentor, colleague and friend. We have all benefited greatly from his life. He will not be forgotten.”
And so John, we will think of your welcoming smile, your grace, your warmth, and your wit. Thank you John, your spirit and life will continue to live on in all of us. You taught the world the history of medicine and headache now become a part of that history. And to Catherine, our hearts go out to you. Know that you can rely on us whenever the need arises and once again thank you for the opportunity to represent so many of John’s friends and colleagues throughout the headache community and to bid farewell to our very dear friend and this truly great soul.
Recollections of John Edmeads
Collected by Fred Sheftell on behalf of his headache family
Peter Poldre, on behalf of the Senior Leadership at Sunnybrook (Canada):
Dr. John Edmeads received his medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1959, and subsequently completed postgraduate training in both Neurology and Neuropathology. His application for active medical staff at Sunnybrook Hospital was sent from Bangkok, Thailand, where he was serving at the Prasat Neurological Institute with CIDA, funded by the Canadian government. His appointment to the medical staff started on August 1, 1967. Exactly two years later, with promotion to Assistant Professor, he was appointed as Head of the Division of Neurology, a position he held for 25 years, until 1994.
His clinical expertise spanned many aspects of neurosciences, but above all, he became one of the world’s leading authorities on headaches. His accomplishments in that field were recognized with the National Headache Foundation Lecture Award (1987), the John Graham Award of the American Association for the Study of Headache (1993), the Leonard Lovshin Award of the Cleveland Clinic (1995), the Keith Campbell Lectureship (2002) and the Headache Cooperative of New England Lifetime Achievement Award (2004).
Dr. Edmeads’ persuasive prowess as a teacher was acknowledged at the University of Toronto with two Laurie Chute Awards (the “Silver Shovel”) in 1978 and 1986, as well as the Mary Hollington Award in 1988. He was widely recognized as one of the first individuals at the University of Toronto to be promoted to Professor due in large part to sustained excellence in teaching. Having mastered the art of teaching over the decades, John also mastered the theory of education by obtaining a Master’s degree in Education in 1996.
John’s quarter century of leadership experience in Neurology and the associated respect of his colleagues in the Department of Medicine at Sunnybrook made it possible for him to assume the leadership of the Department of Medicine in March 1993. For the next seven years, he provided guidance and mentorship to new faculty, calm reassurance to the existing faculty and wise counsel to the many leaders at Sunnybrook, who were forging new and challenging relationships within the health care system.
On behalf of the Senior Leadership Team at Sunnybrook,
Peeter Poldre, MD, EdD, FRCPC
Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto
Vice President, Education & Medical Affairs
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
Werner Becker (Canada):
I have always thought that my relationship with John may have begun in a way quite different from how most in the headache world would have gotten to know John. From 1971 to 1974, I was a family doctor in a small town in Northern Ontario, Haileybury. I needed to refer some of my patients with difficult headache problems to an expert, and after some inquiries started to refer them to a neurologist in far away Toronto, Dr. John Edmeads, whom I had never met. After three years in general practice in Haileybury, I went to Montreal to do my Neurology training and then returned to Western Canada. After I became interested in headache in the early 1990’s, I finally got to meet and to know John more and more in relationship to my activities in headache. He was always very gracious, helpful, and supportive. Back in my family practice days, I never once thought that this remote neurologist in faraway Toronto would one day become a treasured colleague in an area of mutual interest.
Gennaro Bussone (Italy):
I knew him very well as a neurologist, but only had the pleasure of meeting him personally when I visited Stowe to give a talk. I believe I speak for the Italian neurological community when I express my sadness at his passing. We in Italy share with John’s North American colleagues a feeling of loss at the departure of a neurologist of world stature.
Keith Campbell (US):
He was a colleague I respected and looked-up to. I will miss him dearly. When I assumed the editor’s position of Headache from John he was, as one would have expected, as helpful as anyone could have been. For months after the editorial switch, he was always ready to answer my questions without hesitation. I had always believed that to be the speaker immediately after John was a major disadvantage as his abilities were unrivaled in that endeavor. Taking over as editor gave me the same feeling of dread, but John made it easy.
We all remember his many, comical, stories—often delivered with a smattering of French, but his ability to think quickly on his feet was exemplified when, on one occasion, I was moderating a session and John, the speaker, started to cough repeatedly. Realizing the podium did not have a glass of water I took one from the moderator’s table. As I approached John he looked up and said “Thank you, Keith, but I’m thirsty and not dirty.” The world of headache has, with John’s death lost a star, a superb teacher and role model. He will be sorely missed.
David Capobianco (US):
We lost a GIANT in the Headache field. Far more important than that, a GIANT of a man — a role model for us all!
David Dodick (US/Canada):
My memory of John’s last words during a phone conversation from his hospital bed:
‘Oh David, David, David, so good to hear from you my friend… I am so proud of you . . . they tell me I have a 25% chance . . . I’ll take it, you know me David, I am too stubborn to let this get me, I am having too good a time, life is too damn good, and I want more time with the love of my life.’ These words define John Edmeads – a disarmingly warm and gentle soul, full of wit and wisdom, a devoted friend, teacher, mentor, and husband to Catherine.
Michel Ferrari (The Netherlands):
John was one of these special guys, kind, gentle, smart and witty. I have one special memory of John. I was walking with him in Vienna and he wanted to buy a special doll for Catherine. When we arrived at the shop, the shopkeeper was closing the shop and John, polite as he was and not speaking German, didn’t dare to go in. But he indicated that he really wanted to buy the doll. So, I went into the shop and explained to the shopkeeper, in German, that John had flown all the way from Canada to buy this special doll. She immediately re-opened her shop, invited John to come in and five minutes later John was happy as a little child carrying the doll in his hands.
Ivy Fettes (Canada):
Although I am a very small molecule in the Headache universe, I owe my introduction to the Headache world to John Edmeads. I have been very grateful for this and have learned a tremendous amount from my Headache colleagues, who are a very unique group of people. I appreciate the recognition that hormones play a role in a small but important subset of migraine sufferers.
John had a nice way of connecting people who would otherwise never have met. It gave us all a broader spectrum for thinking and working.
John was very well loved and highly admired. He was our role model, mentor, colleague and friend. We have all benefited greatly from his life. He will not be forgotten.
Marek and Ann Gawel (Canada):
I will miss him. He was always willing to help in anything. Ann and I offer our sincere condolences to Catherine.
Rose Giammarco (Canada):
When I had dinner with John and Catherine the night before he was admitted two weeks ago I did ask him what he felt his greatest accomplishment in life was, he replied without hesitation,” his students”. How modest he was. To continue to drive to Hamilton once a month to see 3 or 4 patients a day with me in the clinic, I could never quite figure out his motivation for doing that. I will miss him.
Peter Goadsby (UK):
A kind, intelligent, and gentle man. I never saw him angry…whatever went wrong or whatever he was doing. Instead, he was invariably generous, obviously much loved by colleagues and particularly by his students. I once had lunch with him in a Japanese restaurant in Toronto. He paid. He had obviously been there before. They treated him as almost a family member the way it is done. He seemed on their wavelength – he had served in the Far East I think. They clearly wanted him to come back…I guess we would all like him to come back.
James Lance (Australia):
I have held a longstanding admiration for John and his eternally cheerful and positive approach to life. His optimism shone through even when I telephoned him after the diagnosis of his illness.
I have known him for over 40 years and have had such pleasure in his company over this time. We have trodden the boards together on many occasions, once on a whistle-stop tour across Canada. He was always a great companion and a truly good man in every way.
Mo Levin (US):
He was one of the kindest, most interesting and smartest men I have known, and I think the world really needed him for at least a few more years. I thought I would share a very brief story: In 1981, I was a first-year neurology resident at the Albert Einstein program in New York, and there was a grand rounds lecture about to happen. I was tired of being on call and not really in the mood to hear another boring lecture. I don’t really like to listen to lectures in the best of moods and never did (a short attention span is the problem). Anyway, I dragged myself to the lecture auditorium (just a large room really) and this pleasant appearing man, in a very unassuming, quiet, measured way began to speak about headaches. It was more interesting than I would have thought, so I kept listening. Pretty soon I noticed that along with the thought-provoking information there was quite a lot of really amusing stuff, told in an offbeat way, and I was sorry to have it end. I had little interest in headache at the time, but John’s lecture started me thinking that if it was this interesting and FUN for him, I might like it too.
Since that day 25 years ago I have never missed an opportunity to catch one of John’s lectures. They were always new and fresh and made me think in novel ways about things…and of course, I borrowed many of John’s thoughts for my own lectures. I mentioned this to John a few months ago (before I knew he was ill) and asked if he minded. As was typical of him, he said “Of course not Mo! I’m grateful you liked the lectures well enough to borrow from them.” Of course I am the one who feels grateful for the privilege of having known and learned from this wonderful person.
Anne MacGregor (UK):
He was truly a great man and his kindness is something I’ll never forget. It didn’t matter to him whether you were the most junior, junior or the most senior, senior—he treated each person as someone special.”
Herb Markley (US):
I am deeply devastated at this loss, so quick and deep like a knife wound. Some of my very first memories of the headache specialist’s world include John and Joel Saper sitting behind me at Scottsdale. Joel asked John if his migraine was still bad, and John replied, “Yes, thank you, Joel, it is still flapping its black bat-like wings behind my brow.” This was my first clue that migraine must truly be a serious and hard-to-treat illness if even the Dean of Headache Mavens could not control them in himself. He will be missed beyond my imagination.
Vincent Martin (US):
I am greatly saddened by the death of John. He was truly an ambassador of headache throughout the world. It was a pleasure to have known him and to have learned from him. The things that I will remember most about him were not the information that he imparted, but the humanism and compassion that he displayed to patients and colleagues. We have lost a great physician, mentor, and friend. He will be sorely missed.
Ninan Mathew (US):
It is a great loss for the headache community. He was probably the best speaker ever.
Michael Moskowitz (US):
John Edmeads was one of those unusual colleagues who truly made a difference.
With a shy, self-effacing sense of humor and acute dry wit, he was our sage and
philosopher, admired by all for his gentle, human qualities and compassionate
nature. I learned from John throughout my career and will reflect in the future
on his steady, measured counsel and effective delivery on and off the podium.
Robert Nelson (Canada):
I have many fond memories of John as our parallel careers have gone back to the early 70’s when I first met John. John was urbane and articulate and could carry off a joke on any occasion without ever cracking a smile.
I remember once having a beer in a bar after a headache meeting where John and I had tandem presentations. John was seated with the TV blaring behind him with a rerun of MASH. I asked him whether he had ever been on TV. He replied in the negative and I said, “Well you are now.” Without turning around, he said, “Oh Damn! That Allan Alda is always following me around!”
John was a very gifted lecturer. Every presentation was a masterpiece. While we think of John as a Headache speaker, he was no one-trick-pony. I invited him to speak at our Medical Grand Rounds in Ottawa once and billed him with the title “New Frontiers in Headache” on the advance posters. John got up before a packed auditorium and started off “I am sorry to disappoint you as I know Bob has billed a lecture on headache but I thought a lecture on The Emergency Room Management of Vertigo” would be more interesting. The audience was not disappointed.
John and I often met in courtrooms, on opposite sides of a medical-legal case. It was not that we had opposite points of view but rather there are often no right or wrong sides in such cases – the smartest lawyer wins. I know that they usually went to John first. I learned that the only way to refute John’s evidence in the particular case was for the lawyer to quote evidence from one of John’s many previous testimonies. After the case was over we would go out for a coffee, sometimes joined by the lawyers from the opposite sides.
John also had the ability to analyze a huge amount of scientific material and to produce a well thought out synthesis and summary. This was evident when he was Editor of Headache.
Catherine has been a wonderful influence on John and added a new dimension to his life. I don’t know how much of a francophone he became but I suspect that the Gallic Quebec influence was an addition to his already international interests.”
John Noseworthy (US):
He was a remarkable person – certainly one of Canada’s most esteemed neurologists. I wish I had known him much better. John and I only met face-to-face on a couple of occasions. Our dealings were primarily on the therapeutics textbook. I invited him to be the Section Editor for the headache and pain section of the book. I knew that no one could do this better and I was honored when he agreed to play this role for both the first and second edition of the book. With his long coattails, I was able to recruit the most highly regarded authors in this area from North America and Europe. In spite of the fact that John had more on his plate than almost anyone, he did this willingly and with enthusiasm and grace.
Jes Olesen (Denmark):
I am deeply saddened by the news of John’s demise. He was such a consistent contributor to the headache field and such a gentle person full of jokes and satire but always in a friendly fashion. When composing our book The Headaches we thought a chapter on unauthorized treatments would be necessary. At first, we could not think of anybody to write it. Eventually determined John could perform this task. He wrote a wonderful chapter that faithfully covered the facts while also exposing the lack of evidence in such an elegant fashion that nobody else could have matched it. He had such a sharp mind coupled with wisdom and humor. I shall miss him very much.
Allan Purdy (Canada):
The one thing I recall most vividly is his precision…John always started on time and ended on time! He ran everything by the clock! As I got to know him better in later years I would see him at meetings going over and over his talks, he would have them down to a science, and although it seemed like they were effortless and flawless, this obviously was a practiced skill…..very procedural memory not declarative! In that way he was like Winston Churchill, every speech he gave in the house was practiced for hours – John would modestly like the comparison. What happens to people who do this is they become very adept at the quick response as that is learned as well. I remember asking him a difficult question once and he said, “Allan considers himself a wit, but he is only half right!” Acerbic wit and Canadian charm, what a dynamite combination, eh!!!
He was an icon, not a false idol, but someone who cared very much about what he did and the people around him.
William Pryce-Phillips (Canada):
I once asked John to co-operate in a project at a time when he was exceptionally busy with patients, administrative duties, other research and so on (as usual!). Though the research protocol was somewhat onerous, the requirement of time substantial and the personal benefit to John minimal, he replied at once, “Anything for you, Bill”. But I realized that that his answer was over-complete, because my recollection of John is that he would always do anything for anybody who needed his help. We in Canada will forever miss his skill, plain common sense, politeness, humour and unmatched equanimity.”
“I recall St. Augustine’s words on Friendship:
‘To talk and to laugh with mutual concessions; to jest and to be solemn, to dissent from each other without offence, to teach each other somewhat, or somewhat to learn – to expect those absent with impatience and to embrace their return with joy.’
How poignantly have we all lost a true and dear friend!
Nabih Ramadan (US):
I distinctly recall John introducing the Wolff Award lecture in 1989, which was my first podium speech at AASH. When he shook my sweaty hand and said congratulations, I felt the sincerity, kindness, and wisdom. We became instant colleagues and friends. All of us who knew John will miss him. He personified the Arabic word “Hakim” or unassumingly wise.
Alan Rapoport (US):
I wrote a history of headache paper with John a few years ago. I called him and asked if he would co-author it and if he would would like to be the first author. He said, as he always did, “How are you doing kid?” Then in his inimitable way, he convinced me that I could do it on my own and he would be glad to review it and there was no reason to put his name on it. I had to insist that if he helped, he would be an author.
Many headache greats had stayed at Casa Rapoport when they have spoken to local neurologists or visited The New England Center for Headache. But few were as easy to host, as polite or as concerned about not making waves as John. John was a scholar, a gentleman, arguably the best debater and lecturer in headache, a warm, caring and engaging person and I am lucky to have been able to count him as my friend.”
Gordon Robinson (Canada):
He was a role model for all of us. Many of my fondest memories were of our get-togethers where John would have us in tears of laughter with his seemingly endless collection of stories.
John Rothrock (US):
John Edmeads remains perhaps the kindest individual I’ve met over my 30 plus years in academic medicine. His patience, good humor, and gracious manner were as inspiring to me as were his obvious intellect, the impressive breadth of knowledge and superb clinical judgment. Like many, I looked to him as mentor and role model, and although it saddens me to know that I’ll not again enjoy the blessing of his company, I remain grateful for having had the good fortune to have known him as a teacher and friend.
Valerie South (Canada):
John is an icon. If only every professor taught the importance of taking the time to listen to the patient the way John did, medicine would be leaps and bounds ahead of where it is today. John was a scholar, a clinician of the highest caliber, a gentleman, and despite his enormous success around the world, he remained one of the most down-to-earth, level-headed people you’ll ever meet. He entertained as he taught – a true skill. He could also entertain for entertainment’s sake – I have fond memories of very long jokes (often involving Bo Derek) he’d tell while waiting for the AV technicians to figure out the glitches before his presentation could begin! He loved to laugh, and none of us will forget that Edmeads’ smile. Thank you, John, for all you did for your patients and your students. You deserved to live forever.
Stew Tepper (US):
John Edmeads has always been a friend and mentor to me, unfailingly gracious and patient with a young, junior Neurologist interested in headache. We had a social friendship as well, as we both discovered our love of books on unusual topics. We shared an appreciation for the works of Richard Rhodes and Simon Winchester.
John and I exchanged books, and John always had a single question. Should he return the book or send it on? He had a wonderful policy of reading, giving, and sharing. Thus, if he sent a book to me, he never wanted it back – he always wanted it sent on to someone else.
We compared notes on Richard Rhodes’ National Book award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, so I sent him the sequel, The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. I don’t know if he got to finish it before he fell ill, but I list these books as examples of the extraordinary range of his interests and of his capacity to give and to befriend. He was just as generous with his slides, his time, and his advice. I will miss him beyond words.
Gretchen Tietjen (US):
I always looked forward to his lectures with great anticipation. He was knowledgeable but practical. He respected science without losing the patient in the statistics. His speaking style was wonderful and I would get caught up in his voice, language, and the story he was telling. In that respect, I considered him the Garrison Keiller of headache. He will be greatly missed.
Walter Vanast (Canada):
I did a three-month rotation in Neurology at Sunnybrook with John in the late 1960s during a year of internal medicine and enjoyed his teaching and personality so much that it later drew me to his specialty and to the world of caring for headache patients.
How I wish I had one-fiftieth of his gentleness and thoughtfulness with patients, staff, residents, and students. If I managed to be good at times it was largely because after being John’s student one wanted to constantly emulate him. Looking back, I find it hard to believe how patient he must have been with me and how much I learned from his soft-spoken explanations. And always, when we met, the focus was not on himself, but on others. So rather than tell me what he had accomplished, he would want to know what I had been up to.
KMA Welch (US):
I have heard him speak on the history of headache many times and could hear it again and again. Then, as always, we heard the sonorous, mellifluous, voice with the unhesitating flow of words that made even his most raucous jokes, and there were some hilarious ones, sound like a Shakespearean sonnet.
Most of us seek at least the admiration of our peers as we pursue life’s work. John had no enemies and only friends in our small world of headache – admirable indeed! For John’s life did not ‘waste its sweetness on the desert air’ and will long ‘implore the passing tribute of a sigh’.
Paul Winner (US):
John G. Edmeads has been a “Giant in Medicine”. Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend his lectures experienced a wonderful teacher in his element. His lectures were extremely informative, entertaining, and memorable. John has been an important leader for the American Headache Society and mentor for future headache leaders.