British Columbia Medical Journal, March 2010 issue: Don Rix remembered


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British Columbia Medical Journal, March 2010 issue

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British Columbia Medical Journal, March 2010 issue: Don Rix remembered

  1. 1. good guys Don Rix remembered In November 2009, we lost a giant of BC medicine. Dr Don Rix has left behind a legacy of innovation, courage, and open- heartedness. Painting by Edgardo Lantin, courtesy of BC Cancer Agency Diana June King espite an amazing array of others found Don’s drive abrasive, and That constant drive to build some- D interests and causes, Dr Don Rix’s heart was always in medicine. First and foremost, he was still others considered him a bit of a renegade. At the time his inherent business sense was an anomaly in thing, to achieve something and to keep at it, no matter what, was one of his special qualities. The road wasn’t a physician, and all his accomplish- medicine and his motives were some- always an easy one. Don overcame his ments stemmed from his love of and times viewed with skepticism. Don’s share of challenges along the way. pride in medicine. defiance of convention by providing Over the years Don was many private community lab services rat- things to many people—philan- tled some cages. Ms King is currently writing a biography of thropist, entrepreneur, community But anyone who got to know Don Dr Don Rix. She knew Don most of her leader, volunteer, mentor, supporter, soon found out that he was a visionary life—first, as a patient of his and Adam and friend. and a pioneer, that he didn’t do any- Waldie’s in the late 1950s, and then as a In the early days, though, he was thing by the book, and that his motives 35-year employee at Metro-McNair, then not always regarded in such a positive were very simple: he wanted to make MDS Metro and now LifeLabs. She is cur- light. Some couldn’t accept the role of a difference. Throughout his life he rently LifeLabs’ director of communica- private labs in the health care system, looked for gaps and filled them. tions and external affairs. 72 BC MEDICAL JOURNAL VOL. 52 NO. 2, MARCH 2010
  2. 2. good guys He was driven to be successful, along. It seemed like the right thing to patients—not just in the Lower Main- though, and it didn’t end with that do.” land but province-wide. Don told because when success came, he start- It was during those years in fami- wonderful stories about the work he ed to give it back—to share his wealth ly practice that Don met Michael did with the United Church hospitals of knowledge as well as his monetary Smith, who played a pivotal role in in Bella Bella and Bella Coola in the wealth. For the past several years, that early days of the lab. He was also is all Don did. instrumental in setting up programs to Time was of the essence for Don— provide quality control and educa- every minute mattered. He was a mas- tional support to a number of other ter at multitasking, keeping several small labs around the province. balls in the air, and at the same time When success came, He bent over backwards for physi- focusing entirely on one thing or one he started to give it cians: whenever he saw a gap, he filled person. When he was talking to you, back—to share his it. He started a courier system to pick you had his undivided attention. wealth of knowledge as up samples from doctors’ offices and Don earned his nickname—The well as his monetary clinics (which had been sent through Roadrunner—honestly. He had bound- the mail until then) and deliver them wealth. For the past less energy and his impatience was to wherever they needed to be test- legendary, but his impatience was several years, that is ed—public or private lab; he started a simply a reflection of his intense all Don did. house-call service for homebound desire to get things done quickly and patients who couldn’t get to the lab for move on. their tests; he provided lab services in areas where people had none—in Don’s early years many cases, at a financial loss. After obtaining his MD from the Uni- versity of Western Ontario in 1957, Don’s decision to become a patholo- Service to medical Don came to Vancouver to intern at gist and get involved in laboratory education Vancouver General Hospital. He’d medicine. Their early conversations He also had a soft spot for medical planned to specialize in urology, but about DNA and the future of diagnos- students; he would do anything to help got sidetracked by the need to earn a tic medicine were the catalyst that led a student who shared his passion for living. Through a mutual friend, Don to his interest in a fledgling lab com- medicine. There are countless stories met Dr Adam Waldie, who had a fam- pany. Metropolitan Biomedical Labo- of individuals he supported financial- ily practice on 10th Avenue at Dis- ratories was started in 1960 by Sid ly, through mentorship, or by simply covery and who was looking for a Zbarsky, a biochemist who taught at connecting them with someone else partner. UBC, and two other partners, another who could help them. Even as he Don spent the next 5 years—and biochemist and a physician. When fought the loss of his voice in the sum- as he contended, five of the happiest Sid’s two partners decided to sell their mer of this past year, he spent hours years of his life—in general practice. shares in 1962, Don and a colleague interviewing students for medical fac- Don always spoke fondly of those bought in. The rest, as they say, is his- ulty seats at UBC. years—particularly of his esteem for tory, although it took some interesting That was definitely one of Don’s Adam Waldie, who he credited with turns, including a sale in 1965 and a fortes—the ability to recognize who his introduction to community ser- buy-back 4 years later. needed to meet whom to get some- vice, starting with door-to-door can- From the start Don was driven by thing done. He was always on the vassing for the Salvation Army and a vision to provide patients with equal lookout for opportunities to match United Way. It also included taking access to lab services across the people up. food baskets to needy patients or pro- province. That vision is what made One of his legacies at a number of viding students with free medication, Metro unique, and as LifeLabs it’s still institutions is the establishment of because of course, this was pre- the only lab company providing ser- bursaries for students who need finan- medicare. vices around the province. cial help. He insisted that the reci- When Don was asked where his Don always had a soft spot for pients not be “A” students, because commitment to community stemmed other physicians, and he demonstrat- those students would have access to from, he replied, “Without a doubt, ed that loyalty in many ways—first scholarship funds. (When Don sold Adam Waldie, and I thought the world through the establishment of com- the lab business in 2006, he gave every of him. He just expected it, so I went munity labs for physicians and their Continued on page 74 VOL. 52 NO. 2, MARCH 2010 BC MEDICAL JOURNAL 73
  3. 3. good guys Continued from page 73 ing program, for which he provided Always on the periphery of poli- lab employee $500. Many advisors practical training at his lab. tics and a self-confessed political suggested he prorate the amount based junkie, Don was never tempted to run on length of service and status of em- Service to the profession for office. He wasn’t an orator; he ployment—casual, part-time or full- Within the BCMA Don was a facili- wasn’t a schmoozer. He lacked the time—but Don wouldn’t hear of it. tator and an integrator. He believed social ease of many other people of His response was, “Everyone’s get- strongly in relationships—especially his stature. He always felt he could do ting the same because it’s the casual with government. His word was his more from the outside of organized and shorter-term employees who bond and his handshake was a done politics. probably need the money more.”) deal. In the medical community, Don is Although never elected to the The innovator probably most well known for his sup- BCMA Executive (he claimed to have Don was fascinated by technology and port of expanding medical training— run once and lost to Bill Jory by 50 what it could do. Ironically, he was both in terms of its content and its votes), Don was a huge presence never fascinated by what it could do accessibility—at his alma mater, the within the BCMA. In the 1960s he for him personally. He didn’t use a University of Western Ontario (where was the chair of the Communications PDA and rarely wrote an e-mail. He one of the initiatives he funded was a Committee and the force behind cre- much preferred talking to someone simulation lab for medical students), ating a role for a layperson on the com- face-to-face than anything else. BCIT, UBC, and UNBC. Don was mittee to help improve internal and He purchased the first diagnostic auto- particularly thrilled about the estab- external communications; during the analyzer for the lab in the early 60s lishment of the medical program at 1970s he was on the BCMA Board (which cost the same as his first UNBC because he felt so strongly that for 10 years; for the past 20 years he house), and Metro was the first pri- medical education needed to be made chaired the Finance Committee (many vate lab in Canada to computerize in available in our more remote commu- BCMA members will remember his the 70s. People who worked with Don nities to help keep trained doctors in “no more dues” announcements com- in those days tell many stories of how those communities. His long relation- plete with brass fanfare). He was also well-equipped the lab was and of all ship with BCIT started with his sup- a strong supporter of the organiza- the progressive things he did for staff. port of the medical technology train- tion’s Benevolent Fund. In a recent interview Don explained some of his reasoning: “In those days, the quality of our work was suspect because we were a private company. So we bent over backwards to prove we were as good as any other lab in BC. If we were required to run a qual- ity check every 10 specimens, we’d do it every five. As for staff? I always believed that if you hired the best, treated them with respect, and offered them educational opportunities, they’d stay and make a career with you. And that’s what we wanted—people who would stay and grow with us.” Many of the things Don introduced for employees were way ahead of their time: he brought in a pension plan long before other private companies did, he pushed for a day-care centre and even a credit union and ATMs in the labs, neither of which came to fruition, but his motivation was simply to sup- port staff. He was also well known for encouraging staff to take risks—he A young Don Rix. Don Rix about to go zip-lining at Whistler. created a safe environment for people 74 BC MEDICAL JOURNAL VOL. 52 NO. 2, MARCH 2010
  4. 4. good guys to be innovative and try new things. money to attract more from other countless organizations Don helped Don’s fascination with technology donors or, as he put it, “to encourage anonymously and individuals he and avid interest in biotechnology others to pony up as well.” Within helped privately. And many of those started early, during a time when he medicine and science his focus was on individuals don’t even know they are was equally fascinated with investing health care providers, health care con- beneficiaries of his efforts. That’s the in biotech start-ups and emerging sumers, and medical students. way he wanted it. technologies. Over time he became He was an active philanthropist— Later in life Don was the recipient well known as an angel investor, and someone who got involved, who of numerous awards for his entre- as many have said, BC’s biotech researched, and who did more than preneurism and philanthropy, in - industry would be nowhere near what write cheques. He gave his time— cluding the Order of BC and the it is today if it hadn’t been for Don. whether it was to chairing a hospital Order of Canada. Of all the awards His decisions to invest were almost foundation board, mentoring a med- he received, however, the CMA’s always based on the person asking for ical student, volunteering to answer FNG Starr Award for distinguished his support. He looked for passion; he phones at a telethon, or simply drop- achievement was one of his most looked for commitment; he looked for ping by one of the labs to chat with prized. It was presented to him in integrity. Those were the attributes staff (which he did frequently). Saskatoon in August 2009 at a time that influenced his thinking, not flashy Don was also a risk-taker. He when his health was failing and the presentations. And if you couldn’t get adopted causes that were neither main- trip to accept it was arduous. But he your message across within the first stream nor glamorous. He was an early was determined—acknowledgment 10 minutes, you’d lost him. supporter of hospice and palliative and respect from his peers meant the care, and he was one of the first peo- world to Don. The philanthropist ple to give money to support the What Don wanted most was to Unlike many other philanthropists, Downtown East Side injection pro- make a difference and to set an exam- Don had a broad palette of interests: gram. In the 1980s he adopted the ple in the hopes that other people and medicine and science, education, and Ileitis and Colitis Societies because as organizations would pick up where he the arts. Within those areas his giving he put it very bluntly, “No one wants left off. spanned the gamut: operations, capital, to be associated with bloody diarrhea When Don Rix died in early Nov- and endowment. During these tough and stuff like that, and all they needed ember 2009, people talked about the times there are many organizations was some office space and adminis- huge hole his passing left in the com- benefiting from his foresight and trative support.” munity. That’s true, but the hole he left insistence on endowments. He was For every public acknowledgment in many individuals’ hearts was just as also very astute about leveraging his of his philanthropy, though, there are big. Don Rix at the Taj Mahal. Don Rix and his daughter Laurie Rix at CMA FNG Starr Award presentation 2009. VOL. 52 NO. 2, MARCH 2010 BC MEDICAL JOURNAL 75