Brian Hennen cared for others and kindly guided those around him to do the same.
Brian Hennen: Doctor. Family man. Mentor. Attorney. Born June 14, 1937 in Hamilton; died on August 30, 2021 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, aged 84.
As a young boy, Brian contracted a childhood illness that kept him confined for an extended period of time. As he recovered at home, he realized that he wanted to help people like his doctors had helped him. Much to the occasional dismay of his children, Albert, Leslie, and Nancy, who have followed more circuitous paths to self-discovery, he has never deviated from that path.
When he started out as a family doctor in Orillia, Ont., Brian was called to the train station on a cold weekend evening. He saw a circle of people surrounding a mound of coats piled on the floor, from which many moans came. Brian walked over and said soothingly, “It’s okay. I am the doctor. I am here to help you. Can you tell me what hurts the most? to which the woman under the coats replied: “My hand, my hand, you are standing on my hand!” He didn’t care when his wife, Margi, told this story. His humility informed everything he did.
Brian has always been an empath. He was fired from his first job as a Dickie Dee salesman because he kept giving ice cream to kids who had no money to pay for it. He spent summers in medical school working at the Ontario Hospital in Hamilton with women in the schizophrenia ward, making crafts and taking them around the hospital grounds. (Before he arrived, no one thought about taking them out of the hospital for exercise.)
As a medical educator, he led his students to discovery not only in the classroom or in the examination room, but also in a book club and at barbecues in his backyard. He experienced the compassion he taught by also offering it to his colleagues, students and patients. He dedicated his retirement years to advocating and supporting adults with developmental disabilities in Canada.
He cherished the collegiality and humanity he found at the Canadian College of Family Physicians, the doctors at his Circle of Willis book club, and the bass singing in his church choir.
He was serious and caring, but he was also an imp. When it was game night at the chalet, he never played cards to win but just to spoil everyone. In a passionate game of Balderdash, he would concoct the most ridiculous definition possible and use a version of it every turn, then sit down with a little sparkle in his eyes, waiting for everyone at the table to crack. While playing bridge, he never encountered a trump card three that he wouldn’t attempt.
The piano bench was his happiness. He went through many stressful days singing the blues – St. James Infirmary Blues, Georgia Where The lady is a tramp (which he always asked for Margi when they went to jazz concerts). He enjoyed balancing babies on his knees while he played.
Besides his family, Brian was very proud to have been appointed Dean of Medicine at the University of Manitoba, the first family physician to hold that position in Canada, and to have a Research Chair at Queen’s University, his beloved alma mater, which bears his name. . This combination of family, medicine and teaching was his raison d’être: to take care of others and gently guide those around him to do the same.
Nancy Hennen is Brian’s daughter.
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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary and little-known lives of recently deceased Canadians. To learn how to share a family member’s or friend’s story, go online at tgam.ca/guidevies