After interviewing thousands of people and covering an equal number of subjects and miles travelled during her career, Joan Hollobon worked her last day as the medical reporter at The Globe and Mail on 31 January 1985, and took her retirement on 1 February 1985, aged 65 years old.
Joan may have retired from The Globe and Mail at the beginning of 1985, but not from medical journalism. In April 1985 she signed up as a freelance writer and contributing editor to The Journal, the publication of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario. At the same time she took on a project with The Wellesley Hospital/ Women’s College Hospital and in 1987 her book was published titled The Lion’s Tale: A History of the Wellesley Hospital 1912-1987 (Toronto, Irwin Publishing, 1987). The book was shortlisted for the 1988 Toronto Book Awards.
That her passion for medical research and healthcare was recognised by community leaders is evident in the number of community service positions she held following her retirement from The Globe and Mail. In 1985, Joan Hollobon was appointed to the Community Advisory Board, Queen Street Mental Health Centre, Toronto, and in 1986 Joan Hollobon was appointed to several committees in the health-care field, including as one of the first persons to serve in the Ontario Public Education Panel on the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The same year Joan Hollobon was appointed as a Community Representative on the National Advisory Council on Family Medicine Training, and in 1987 she was appointed as a Member of the Public Awareness Advisory Committee of the Royal Society of Canada.
When Joan Hollobon received the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour in 1986 for bridging the gap between the medical profession and the general public through her hands-on reporting, she reflected on her retirement and her long career as a medical reporter with these words:
“There is surely no greater good fortune than to be able to earn one’s living doing a fun job that offers unlimited opportunity to learn new things. It seems fainting immoral to receive an award for such good fortune, which included the luck to work for a newspaper that cared about trying to get things right.
I decided I could accept it (the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour) gratefully on two counts. First, as a recognition by the medical profession that talking to the public is worth doing. When I began medical reporting for The Globe and Mail in 1959 that view was less prevalent. And second, as an honour to be shared with journalist predecessors and colleagues still out there doing a conscientious job.
While reporting might have seemed awfully trivial, for medicine at its’ best is still considered among the noblest of callings, the best has never been so subject to differing interpretations, and the ordinary patients, the same old human bag of bones lying in a bed, hurting and scared – may have more old-fashioned virtues in mind.
And, of course, taxpayers are entitled to know what is being done with their dollars. The paucity of support for research can be directly linked to ignorance of what is being done or the need for it.
If communication can help bridge the widening gaps in all these area between an increasingly impersonal medicine and the people in the street, then it is worth doing.
So, I’ve had an awfully good time learning about medicine from a lot of terrific people - the many people who I have interviewed, argued with, written about and learned to respect. Thank you – and please go on talking to all those other science writers out there!”
Joan Hollobon not only helped to change the way patients approached their doctors, and how doctors approached their patients, or how Canadians understood healthcare, but she was a mentor and respected by her peers, the general public, and the medical profession.
In 2015, Terry Murray, then a staff reporter for The Medical Post, posted on terrymurray.org/blog, “Joan Hollobon, once the doyenne of Canadian medical writers, celebrated her 95th birthday yesterday.” Thirty years after her retirement, Joan still commanded the respect of her peers.
Peter Calamai (1943-2019), a leading figure in Canadian journalism and a member of the Order of Canada, wrote in his holiday letter to Joan Hollobon in December 2016, “I remember very well the mentoring that I received from Joan Hollobon when I was starting the medical beat. I now try to do some of the same teaching at the School of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.”
By Andy F. Visser-de Vries