Trudo Lemmens’ Eulogy of Tom Ban
I met Tom for the first time in 2005, when Tom, the late Louis Charland, who was a philosopher at Western University, and I started an inquiry into an academic controversy at the Royal Ottawa Hospital for the Canadian Association of University Teachers. It was the start of a 15-year intense friendship. Tom became over the years a mentor, encouraging colleague, dear friend and a father-figure for the two of us.
Tom was the person outside my direct family with whom I was most in touch. He was as intense and as dedicated in his friendship as he was in his professional life — and those who know of his legendary professional energy know what that means. He was always there for his friends, making time to listen to them, to provide support and to encourage them in their personal and professional life.
Countless hours I spent talking to Tom in his “office” in the apartment on Yonge Street in Toronto. Before he started to have more difficulties walking, he also would occasionally walk over from Yonge Street to my office on Queen’s Park, from where we would go for lunch. The last time I saw him in person, just before the onset of the pandemic, was precisely at a lunch meeting with Louis Charland in a local diner. Eating in a diner was always a special treat for him. He would tell us mischievously — and in no way to complain — that he enjoyed these diner lunches from time to time, since he could skip eating vegetables, which Joan insisted on at home. His resistance to eat vegetables was his own personal way to revolt against imposition of epidemiological findings, something that really annoyed him about how medicine was developing, and which he often would bring up in conversations. If we tried to suggest that there surely was some evidence that healthy food made a big difference, he would shake his head in disbelief.
Since the start of the pandemic, our contacts were always via Skype. But our interactions were as frequent as before the pandemic. And just as before the pandemic, Tom would be concerned if he hadn’t heard anything for three weeks. A short e-mail with “Trudo, you disappeared,” would be a clear instruction to get in touch. Louis Charland’s sudden death last May, which affected him deeply, clearly made him even more concerned about not hearing from me.
While he insisted in his friendly way to contact him regularly, he also warned to set up a time a week in advance, because he was on daily conference calls — throughout the day and night — with international colleagues for the International Network for the History of Neuropsychopharmacology (INHN), which he was running from his apartment, as well as with close friends and with his beloved family in Australia.
His packed agenda notwithstanding, it was hard to end a conversation or a visit with Tom. He wanted to hear about everything: how the family was doing, whether I was still busy cycling in the city (which he kept saying — rolling his eyes and shaking his head with a smile — was a crazy thing to do), whether Pascale (my wife) and I would be traveling again during COVID (which he also thought was a crazy thing to do); how my sons were doing; and finally, but always only after talking about the family, how my work was going….
And after all the questions, Tom would come up with yet another idea of something work-related we should be doing. But he would never complain that even at our much younger age, we couldn't really live up to his level of professional energy. Most conversations would also be an occasion to hear at one point yet another fascinating experience in Tom’s long and rich professional life. He had this phenomenal memory, recounting details of meetings, dates included, with tons of people who he remembered by name, going back to his Hungarian years, and his work with the now infamous Dr. Cameron at McGill’s Allan Memorial Institute. Particularly in the last five to 10 years, these stories would often start with the announcement that yet another close friend or colleague had died. Tom, in contrast, seemed immortal, with a memory that made ours pale in comparison, and a professional commitment and energy that seemed unmatched.
There will be other occasions to celebrate Tom’s simply astonishing professional accomplishments throughout his life. But with all these accomplishments, he remained incredibly modest, as if he was just by chance a participant in this theater of life. At the same time, he had a sense of purpose and a mission to accomplish. Just days before his stroke, he was still writing me to ask when I would be commenting on commentaries that had been posted on INHN in relation to a case report I had written. He was telling me about the new educational initiatives he was organizing with his colleagues and friends of the INHN; and suggesting I should devote more time again on pharmaceutical regulation work. It was, we should realize, how Tom wanted it: he was passionately involved in what he found important up to the very end.
Tom was also an inspirational model as a family-man. His questions about our families reflected how important his family was in his life. After my mother passed away three years ago, Tom was always concerned about how my father was coping. It characterized his deep empathy, but also how he had a hard time imagining his life without his family around him. Tom would talk with much tenderness about the movie nights with Joan, and at the time also the Stratford theater excursions. With the pandemic, the daily walks with Christopher were a very cherished ritual. He was incredibly grateful for Christopher’s support.
I will miss the supportive words, the fascinating stories, the long chats via computer and the warm welcome I would always get on Yonge Street before the pandemic.
His friendship will endure in the many memories I have of the short period of his life I had the honor of knowing him. It has been a privilege to have had Tom as a friend and to have been inspired by his incredible commitment and integrity. His legacy is impossible to fill, but we’ll keep honoring him in our personal and professional lives. And we will always be there for Joan and Christopher.
March 17, 2022