Ross Tilley Essay Research Paper I have

Ross Tilley Essay, Research Paper

I have chosen to do my biographical assignment on Dr. Ross Tilley. I became interested in him when I heard about him at the summer camp I worked at this year. He used to own the property of Camp Hollyburn until he sold the property to my boss’ father, Ted Yard Sr. Before camp started we had to learn about the camp, and his name came up repeatedly, My boss talked about how he used to bring war burn victims up to the camp to discuss their struggle with being burned and to get away from the busyness of the city. It is a beautiful property and the lake is actually named after him to commemorate all that he has done.

Ross Tilley was born in Bowmanville, Ontario. His father was a local practitioner in the town. In his younger years he was an excellent student and an outstanding athlete. He attended medical school at the University of Toronto and graduated in 1929, as a silver medalist. He trained in surgery in Toronto, Edinburgh and New York. He also worked with Sternburg, who was known as the great Vienna pathologist. He opened a private practice in Toronto at the Toronto Western and Wellesley hospitals in 1935. There, he specifically became interested in Plastic Surgery, which was a hard to come by specialty, seeing how there was only three qualified plastic surgeons in Canada at the time. He trained with Dr. E Fulton Risdon in Toronto who was one of Canada’s first specialists in the field, completing his plastic surgery training just before the outbreak of the second world war.

Tilley was a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps Militia and went into active service immediately after the outbreak of the war. He transferred to the new RCAF Medical Branch shortly after it’s formation and he was posted at their headquarters in the United Kingdom in 1941 as principal medical officer. In 1942 Dr. Tilley was transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead of Sussex which was the main treatment center for burned commonwealth airmen. As the number of Canadian casualties increased, it became necessary to build a purely Canadian wing at the hospital and Tilley was the main coordinator and planner. It was soon built by the Royal Canadian Engineers. Tilley and his colleagues treated hundreds of airmen there, whom were mostly Canadian, during the war and shortly after.

Tilley was a kind man, and wanted everyone to fit in around East Grinstead, if they were burned or not. He, as well as other doctors held a town meeting and encouraged the townspeople to mingle with the burned airmen who were soon going to be entering their town. They warned residence that they were in for some troubling sights, such as men left without eyelids and with fire-scarred faces, but they appealed to them not to stand and stare. Making the patients feel welcome, buying them a drink and talking to them was an important part of the healing process. The townspeople listened and when the wounded men in air force uniforms arrived, the town had open arms. A number of the airmen also married local women. The townspeople took an active part in their recovery. This shows that Tilley wasn’t just in it for the money, he had a joy in treating and helping patients.

Tilley’s achievements in England helped to develop standards of patient care that brought Canada into plastic surgery’s modern era. He and the other surgeons literally put their patients back together. The procedures ranged from the reconstruction of horribly battered feet to the rebuilding of faces and hands that had been deformed by fire or other injuries. Tilley was convinced that the personal demons confronting the injured people arriving at the hospital were held at bay by the camaraderie and all-for-one attitude provided by the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ and he maintained that bond that helped the healing process.

‘The Guinea Pig Club’ was an exclusive club for the victims of severe burns in World War Two. He once said “only god can create a face”, but to many people he became a close substitute for god. Tilley took an active role in the process and this reassured his patients. He insisted on being the last person that the patient saw before he went under the knife and the first person that they saw when they woke up. Tilley always encouraged the guinea pigs to visit the operating theater to witness the operations they where being scheduled for, an unorthodox method that helped take the mystery out of the procedures. The club has flourished and has remained active in the United Kingdom and in Canada. The club continues to have get-togethers every two years for all of its members who are now in their 70’s and 80’s. Tilley was the president of the club until his death.

Dr. Tilley was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1944. He was promoted to group captain that year and he held this rank on discharge from the service in 1945. When he returned to Canada he carried a very busy practice in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. He was the first person to ever teach plastic surgery at Queen’s University. He was also a charter member and a past president of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons. He campaigned for many years for the development of burn treatment facilities in the Toronto area. His dream was finally fulfilled when the Ross Tilley Burn Center opened at the Wellesley Hospital in 1984.

The Ross Tilley Burn Center was opened in 1984, at Wellesley Hospital. Today it is one of the largest in Canada. It was moved from Wellesley to Sunnybrook because of space issues. There were only seven beds available for tertiary care, but now there are fourteen. The center sees 85% of the major burn injuries from the province. The most common burns treated were flame, scald, contact, electrical, tar and chemical. The facility contains a comprehensive burn program, which offers a full range of services from admission to follow-up reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and return to work. The patient team includes plastic surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, pharmacists, social workers, and chaplains.


Dr. Ross Tilley was known as a mild-mannered, quiet man. He was a meticulous surgeon who was noted for both his excellent judgment and technical ability. His passion was teaching young doctors the art of plastic surgery, teaching by gentle coercion and example and with great patience. Throughout his life he traveled extensively, and lectured and operated in many foreign countries such as Turkey, Nepal and India. He had friends in virtually every corner of the world and was loved and respected by all who knew him. He is remembered as a man of compassion, skill, humour and wisdom. Dr. Tilley was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1982 in recognition of his many contributions to Canadian plastic surgery. He played a major role in the development of the specialty in this country as one of Canada’s first plastic surgeons.

Another strange connection to him and burn victims is the camp property. For the last week of the summer, Camp Hollyburn changes to Camp B.U.C.K.O (burn unit camp for kids in Ontario). When the creators of Bucko came to look at the Tilley lake property they had no clue that it was once owned by the great Ross Tilley. On an advertising day someone asked about it and Ted (the director now), went into a long conversation at lunch about the relationship between this property and Tilley. Many of the kids as well as some of the adult volunteers were quite enlightened to find that information out, and as was I. I think that he is a great person, who showed a lot of compassion to his badly wounded and scared patients. This in my mind is a great doctor and scientist.


1) Sunnybrook & Women’s College Health Science Center (2000). The Ross Tilley Burn Center. [online].

Avaliable: (September 8, 2000)

2) Intouch Newsletter (1996). Did You Know? (RTBC). [online]. Avaliable:

(September 8, 2000)

3) Peter Wilton (1998). WWII “guinea pigs” played a crutial role in refining plastic surgery in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal. [online serial] volume 159, issue 9. Avaliable:

(September 8, 2000)

4) Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons (1997).

A. Ross Tilley. [online]. Avaliable:

(September 8, 2000)


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