Douglas Ewart Hall (1937-2003)

An Appreciation

Doug Hall, a townie born and bred, grew up on Quidi Vidi Road and attended Bishop Field school where he was a classmate of Arthur May (President Emeritus) and Graham Skanes (former Head of Psychology and Dean of Continuing Education). Competition for first place in Bishop Feild was keen with Doug and Art May vying for the honours. He began his training in Clinical Biochemistry in the General Hospital and qualified as a medical technologist in 1962 . Thus began the first half of his career, which was devoted to Clinical Biochemistry. He became a medical technologist and, later, was an Instructor in the medical technology program. A whole generation of the city's medical technologists and medical lab technicians remember Doug with great fondness and respect.

Dr. L.A.W. (Woody) Feltham was the Chief Clinical Biochemist at the General Hospital. He and Doug were a remarkable team, responsible for the introduction of modern Clinical Biochemistry to the city. Indeed, they also played a similar role throughout the province. They set up the first auto-analyser in the province. They also travelled extensively throughout the island and to Labrador, advising on and supervising the establishment of Clinical Biochemistry laboratories. They were not beyond the occasional practical joke, for example, passing themselves off as brain-surgeons in St. Anthony, so as to partake, lavishly, of the hospitality of the U.S. Officer's Mess. Travel to Labrador, in the sixties, was an adventure; the small planes were operated by bush pilots who had the disconcerting habit of falling asleep at the controls, but who invariably woke up when the engine began to sputter, switched over to the second fuel tank and promptly went back to sleep. In 1964, Doug and his family moved to Gander where he headed Clinical Biochemistry in the new James Paton Memorial Hospital. However, after seven years, Memorial beckoned. Dr. Feltham had become the founding head of the Biochemistry Department, in 1967, and invited Doug to join him as Chief Technician.

Returning to St. John's in 1970, Doug began a thirty-three year association with the University. His principal contribution was the establishment of the Amino Acid Analysis Laboratory which survives to this day and analyses some 1200 samples annually. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins; they also play important roles in the metabolism of organisms. Their analysis requires meticulous attention to detail. Doug Hall established, at Memorial, the best amino acid analysis lab in Canada. Not only could researchers have complete confidence in his results, he also pioneered new methodology. He was widely regarded, in the industry, as one of the top half-dozen amino acid analysts in the world. He was offered attractive positions in Canada and the U.S. but his commitment to the university and to the province won out. Over the last 30 years, the Amino Acid Analysis Laboratory has contributed to more than 200 research publications; Doug authored some 20 of these. In addition, he analysed numerous pediatric samples for the Janeway Hospital and assisted in the diagnosis of genetic diseases of amino acid metabolism.

Amino acid analysers are temperamental instruments but Doug knew his intimately. One of his most remarkable accomplishments was keeping old (even antique) instruments operational decades beyond their normal lifetimes. He accumulated a cache of spare parts long after these were no longer available commercially. If an older instrument was decommissioned in Pheonix or Moncton or Seattle, Doug knew about it and ensured that the instrument was cannabilized to add to his inventory of spare parts.

Doug Hall was a people person. He was full of jokes and bonhomie and loved a good party. Indeed, he seemed to organize most of the parties, whether it was the departmental picnic or the departmental Christmas party. His own lab party, at Christmas, was an institution and it was pointless to ask about the provenance of the assorted bottles; they just turned up. He was a tireless volunteer, Red Cross, Church Lads Brigade, Water Safety, St. Thomas' Anglican Church, Boy Scouts - Doug was involved in them all. His contribution to the Boy Scouts was extraordinary. He became involved when his sons were young; eighteen years later, his sons grown up, Doug was still a scout leader.

Doug Hall died on October 3, 2003 after a courageous struggle with cancer. His family retains strong links with Memorial. His wife, Bea, has been a Research Assistant in the Biochemistry Department for more than thirty years. Two of their sons, Michael and David, received B.Sc. (Hons) degrees in Biochemistry and M.D. degrees from Memorial. Michael is Associate Professor of Pediatrics in Memorial's Medical School.

On the morning of October 3, I told one of my colleagues that Doug had passed away overnight. He was silent for a moment and then said, very thoughtfully, "Doug Hall was one of the finest people I'll ever know". Amen.

Sean Brosnan