Celebrating a leader in the Faculty of Health Sciences
Faculty of Health Sciences Professor Emeritus Dr. Wycliffe (Cliffe) Lofters passed away on June 3, 2021, at Mackenzie Health Hospital in Richmond Hill. An extraordinary physician, mentor and leader, Dr. Lofters pursed a career in medicine during an era when Queen’s University’s ban on the admission of Black students in the medical school was still officially in place. Whether it was his patients, students or colleagues, Dr. Lofters dedicated his life to helping those around him. Throughout his career Dr. Lofters advocated for increased diversity in medicine and supported individuals with diverse backgrounds at Queen’s and in the Kingston community.
Born in Jamaica in 1943, from a young age Dr. Lofters pursued a career in medicine, while also proving himself a star athlete on the track. While studying medicine at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Lofters met his wife, Felicia. Several years later the pair immigrated to Canada and in 1979 Dr. Lofters began working at Queen’s University in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS).
Professor Emeritus Dr. Alan R Giles played a large role in the addition of Dr. Lofters to FHS, an act that he considers to be one of the best strokes of good fortune in his life. “It is wonderful to hear the tributes that recognise and emphasise Dr. Lofters’ significant and abundant medical and social benefits to the Kingston and Queen’s communities,” says Dr. Giles. “Consequently, for my wife Hilary and I it was an absolute bonus that our dear friends were now in Kingston, Ontario rather than Kingston, Jamaica.”
During his time at Queen’s Dr. Lofters established himself as a leader in FHS and in Kingston’s African and Caribbean community. As the Head of Oncology, Dr. Lofters played a crucial role in expanding the then small team of physicians into the prominent and successful one that it is today. Throughout his career he acted as a mentor to faculty and students, teaching important clinical skills along with how to be a caring and compassionate health care provider. Dr. Lofters was also instrumental in the establishment of the chemotherapy unit in Belleville, thereby vastly improving the quality of care for cancer patients in the region.
“Cliffe was a remarkable person who made significant and foundational contributions to the Division of Medical Oncology, the Department of Oncology, and the Cancer Program,” says Dr. Scott Berry, Head, Department of Oncology. “I have heard often about what a fine person, physician and leader he was. His legacy continues to be felt across the Department of Oncology and the faculty as a whole.”
In addition to his roles within FHS, Dr. Lofters was the co-founder of the Afro-Caribbe Community Foundation of Kingston, an organization created to promote academic, professional and technical excellence among students of the African and Caribbean communities in Kingston. Dr. Lofters acted as the group’s President for several years and was instrumental in establishing two awards within Queen’s University: the Robert Sutherland Memorial Admission Award and the Alfie Pierce Admission Award. Both awards are still presented on an annual basis to students entering the first year of a Queen’s University undergraduate degree program who have demonstrated contributions to the African or Caribbean communities in Canada.
Dr. Lofters was beloved by his students, colleagues and patients alike. In his many tributes he is praised for his kindness, his compassion, and the genuine respect that he showed everyone regardless of their role. “Cliffe and I worked closely together for many years,” says Dr. David Ginsburg, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Medicine. “He was a superb colleague. He was an outstanding physician. His clinical acumen was remarkable. More than that, his treatment of his patients and all staff was always kind, empathetic and considerate. Cliffe was a true friend whom I greatly admired and whom I deeply miss.”
The success that Dr. Lofters found in FHS speaks to his remarkable drive, leadership and expertise while also serving to demonstrate the missed potential created by restrictive admissions policies and practices that operate against Black physicians. Throughout his career Dr. Lofters was a fierce advocate of increased diversity in medical education. To honour his memory, friends and colleagues from the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario, the Department of Oncology, and the Afro-Caribe Community Foundation of Kingston are establishing an award for first year students entering an undergraduate degree program at Queen’s who have made contributions to African or Caribbean communities in Canada. Anyone who wishes to donate to this bursary can do so at https://www.givetoqueens.ca/drwycliffelofters.
Read below to hear additional tributes from some of Dr. Lofters’ colleagues and former students.
Dr. Anne Smith:
I met Dr. Wycliffe Lofters, known to all as Cliffe, in January 1999, when I joined what was then the Kingston Regional Cancer Centre (KRCC) as CEO and Head of the Department of Oncology. Cliffe was one of the first people to welcome me. At the time he was Division Head of Medical Oncology, a Division which was understaffed for the growing numbers of patients. As a result, Cliffe had a very large practice specializing in cancers of breast, colon and lymphomas. He never complained about the number of patients he had in his practice, he gave every one of them all the time and care they needed. He was an outstanding clinician. Also, he somehow made time to manage the Division and provide support to its members.
Even when we recruited more medical oncologists, Cliffe did not want to reduce his practice. He said that was what he was there for and he intended to continue doing so! He led by example which made the Medical Oncology Division a collegial one and good to be part of.
To me, Cliffe epitomized the word ‘Gentleman’ – he was gentle, kind, sensitive, courteous and honourable. He was quietly spoken and I remember him at Executive meetings where he hadn’t said a word and had listened to a lot of others giving their views, when suddenly he would speak and quietly make a comment, which was usually perceptive and pertinent and to which suddenly, all agreed with. It always made me smile!
Dr. Alan R Giles:
Our friendship began when we were both trainees in the Haematology Training Program at McMaster University in the early 70’s. We almost immediately became the closest of friends and perhaps most importantly, deep soul mates. Our life ideals were virtually identical but there was also a level of shared pragmatism, perhaps slightly more in my case than Cliffe’s but always with a clear view of maintaining our ideals. After my move to Queen’s in 1979, it came as a total surprise, when sitting in my office in the Department of Pathology at Queen’s, my secretary told me a ‘Dr Lofters’ was on the phone! I was even more surprised that he told me he was in Toronto and the reason he was calling me was to tell me our mutual pragmatism had paid off and he was hoping I could help him find a position in Canada!
As a result of what I will always consider one of the best strokes of good fortune in my life, I was able to do that! That very same morning I had met my colleague David Ginsburg, who was ruing the fact that a recruit to the Kingston Regional Cancer of which he was the director had reneged on the appointment at the last minute. I called David immediately and the rest is history! It is wonderful to hear the tributes that recognise and emphasise that there were significant and abundant medical & social, collateral benefits to the Kingston & Queen’s communities. Consequently, for my wife Hilary and I, it was an absolute bonus that our dear friends were now in Kingston, Ontario rather than Kingston, Jamaica!
Dr. Catherine de Metz:
Dr. Lofters was one of the first people I met at the Cancer Centre when I first started to work here. He had a warm smile, keen insight, and always seemed to have all the time in the world to discuss a case, or a problem. He was a hard worker, and cared deeply for his patients, and his colleagues. He was always willing to share his experience and his wisdom. One of my favourite memories is the joint retirement party we had at the University Club for Dr. Lofters and Dr. Froud. There were lots of stories and memories shared, lots of laughs. It was a real privilege working with him.
Dr. David Ginsburg:
Cliffe and I worked closely together for many years. He was a superb colleague. He was an outstanding physician. His clinical acumen was remarkable. More than that, his treatment of his patients and all staff was always kind, empathetic and considerate. Sadly, on many occasions he experienced racial bias: He was once reported to the College of Physicians because he had dared to shake hands with a patient after the patient had told him he had a sore shoulder. Once I wanted to admit a patient and pointed Cliffe out to him as going to be his attendant on the ward. “I am not coming in under a Black man”, he told me. “Sir”, I said, “you can be admitted under the care of a Black man, a woman or a Jew –your choice”. He apologized, accepted Cliffe’s care and later told me that he was very grateful for the attention he had received from Cliffe. Cliffe was a true friend whom I greatly admired and whom I deeply miss.
Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer:
Cliffe was a kind, thoughtful and gracious physician, well loved by patients and colleagues, who was always seeking better ways to manage and support cancer patients.
Dr. Heather Ostic:
When I was hired at the cancer centre in January 1999, Dr. Lofters was the head of the division of medical oncology. Since then, a number of Medical Oncologists and General Practitioners in Oncology joined, and he made each of us feel a valued member of the team. He valued our input, never took us for granted, and made a point of thanking us at the end of clinic. Cliffe’s punctuality was commendable and it forced the rest of us to be on time. He was always available to colleagues for advice and nurses to manage a drug reaction or emergency. Not only that, but he was always calm and courteous. No matter how busy a clinic was, he addressed problems one at a time as they arose in a professional manner. One of Cliffe’s most treasured qualities was the dedication and the compassion he bestowed on his patients. I had the pleasure of working closely with Cliffe for ten years and I have seen first-hand the trust patients had in him. But we also had fun, I remember a patient who gave Cliffe a red clown nose to wear when he saw her in the clinic so he wouldn’t look so serious! I recall many lovely thank you letters Cliffe received from patients and family members thanking him for the commitment he made to caring for his patients.
Dr. Lois Shepherd:
I am very fortunate to have gained a position as a Clinical Assistant at the Cancer Centre and even more fortunate to have worked with Cliffe, helping out in his GI and Lung clinics two days a week. Cliffe was a gifted clinician and was warm, empathetic but honest with all his patients - traits to emulate that have served me well professionally and personally. He was a very good teacher and a mentor to so many people throughout his career. We remained in touch after I started working full time in the Department of Pathology through Hematology Journal Clubs, the Division of HOPE - Hematology, Oncology, Palliative Care and Ethics, rounds, and more latterly at holiday gatherings. I know he was intensely proud of his wife and children - just an all 'round wonderful man. He worked and lived a long time with, and in spite of Multiple Myeloma - he will be missed. I was very sad to learn of his death.
Dr. Mihaela Mates:
I met Dr. Lofters in 2006 when I started Medical Oncology residency as Queen’s University and little did I know how much influence he will have on my future career. To me Dr. Lofters was one of the most professional, collegial and knowledgeable teacher, colleague and ultimately friend. He led by example and his advice was invaluable. He was always available to colleagues, nurses and patients and was very generous with his time. There are many clinical pearls I learned from Cliffe, one in particular has stayed with me to this day, namely the Lofters’ rule for a positive clinical trial. When critically appraising a study at Journal Club, Cliffe would wisely conclude that a trial was positive only if the survival curves separated enough for a thumb to fit between them, otherwise the clinical benefit was not significant! And Cliffe was not only a great physician, but also a proud family man, avid reader, connoisseur of fine things (Jamaican rum and coffee among others). He will be greatly missed.
Dr. Ophira Ginsburg:
Cliffe was the first real mentor I had in medical oncology. And I was really blessed to also know David Ginsburg well (no relation :). I loved watching those two together!! I met them both when I was a medical student at Queen’s (I already knew I would become an oncologist). I spent I think two summers on scholarship working with them. Somewhere 1994-1998! Cliff always showed such genuine respect- for everyone, no matter their role, and he and David shared such a gentle, dry sense of humor. Mostly I remember Cliff’s humility and humanity. The patients always came first. I learned so much from them him! And then - when I came back on faculty (2005-2007) – I just couldn't believe that Cliff didn't seem to have aged, at least not in spirit. The same incredible work ethic. The same humility. And humor.
Dr. Roger Levesque:
Cliffe was such a generous, kind individual who made everybody feel special. He was very important in the success of the Dr. Douglas MacIntosh Cancer Clinic at the Belleville General Hospital. He was very supportive of the Cancer Clinic in Belleville. One of many examples, was when Dr MacIntosh retired and Belleville was left with a single oncologist. Even with his already busy schedule he still found time to travel to Belleville to do regular clinics and provided training to start our GPO program. Cliffe really cared, he was never too busy to listen and to assist you in any way he could. He was a kind, generous individual and he will be missed.
Dr. Richard Gregg:
All of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with Wycliffe Shakespeare Lofters quickly came to know him as Cliffe. We also came to know and trust his professional strengths – meticulous with language, careful with detail and the same kindness and careful attention to all those who he cared for. We also came respect his intellectual curiosity supported by a remarkable memory and his passion for social justice and realizing opportunities for those our society provides less advantage. We admired his courage in the face of adversity and illness which he met with dignity and humour, and we will always be grateful for the kindness and patience he had for his students and colleagues. I was one of them.
Marleen Ross Smith:
I was saddened to learn of Dr. Lofter’s passing. He was very dedicated to both the patients and staff of the Kingston Regional Cancer Centre. He was wise, approachable and pragmatic. His chuckle and charismatic smile will be missed.
Dr. Joseph Pater:
I had the privilege of working as a clinical colleague with Cliff Lofters from when he arrived in Kingston until my retirement in 2007. For many years he and I were responsible for the “Thursday morning clinic” at the cancer centre. As my administrative and research responsibilities increased, my contribution diminished, but Cliff handled the change in workload without difficulty or complaint. I’m sure that without Cliff’s help I could not have done what I did in research. Equally important to me personally was the opportunity I had to spend time with someone who I regard as one of the finest physicians - and persons - I have known. We are all fortunate to have had him with us for as long as we did.
It is impossible to put the measure of this amazing man into mere words. Cliffe hired me in 1988 when he was heading up Clinical Trials in the clinic, and it was the beginning of our friendship. He was truly unique... warm, genuine, honest, with an award winning smile that lit up a room when he walked in. He listened and observed carefully, spoke quietly, and treated everyone with respect, no matter who they were or the position they held.
Along with medical students, I would sometimes attend his morning in-patient rounds. As part of the teaching experience, he would ask questions. One student offered an answer that was quite wrong, but Cliffe, a thoughtful teacher, very carefully found a positive in the answer and segued into a beautiful teaching moment. A true mentor, he had an open door policy and always made time to answer a question. A gentle man with a great sense of humour, he found the bright side of life every day. Cliffe's intelligence, caring, and friendship impacted my life in soft, kind ways. I loved him as my friend and a wonderful human being, and I smile when memory brings forth his face and his grin. I will miss him.