Asthma Pioneer Remembered for Genius and Integrity

A lovely remembrance to Dad in the Hamilton Spectator by Danielle Wong.  Thanks to this piece, I was touched to see many people at the memorial for Dad in sun dresses and with splashes of colour.  He would have loved that!  Thank you!

Dr. Frederick Hargreave was an internationally renowned respirologist who changed the way asthma is diagnosed.

He was also a man who cut his neighbours’ lawns and got up to dance when he heard jazz music.

Dr. Freddy Hargreavetegrity

The asthma pioneer’s family and colleagues remembered the 72-year-old as a humble scientist who genuinely cared for his patients and maintained his integrity for the four decades he worked in his field.

“He loved what he did. He had a social conscience,” his wife, Alix, said Friday.

“He was never bought out by any pharmaceutical company … the work that he did was as accurate as he could get it. He didn’t have the capacity to lie.”

Hargreave, who was known as Freddy, died suddenly of a heart attack on June 15.

During his career, the McMaster University professor emeritus came up with what is now the standard for deciding whether people with symptoms of asthma actually have the disease, said Hargreave’s longtime colleague and former student, Dr. Paul O’Byrne.

His development of the methacholine challenge test to more precisely diagnose asthma became a standard that is now used around the world, he said.

O’Bryne said his former supervisor also developed a new method of collecting secretions in airways about 15 years ago, adding that the non-invasive process, known as sputum induction, is widely used to determine what kind of inflammation a patient has.

“He was a genius. I think I can say … in the past 30 or 40 years, he has been the most influential clinical scientist in asthma research anywhere in the world,” said O’Byrne, who is the director of the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and McMaster.

Hargreave rarely lost his cool, but could not tolerate dishonesty or when people misrepresented data, O’Byrne said. “He was unflinchingly honest.”

Hargreave, who was recruited to McMaster in 1969 after his medical training at the University of Leeds, England, was one of the founders of the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health.tory O’Byrne and Hargreave’s family say the asthma pioneer had a passion for his patients and made sure he listened to them.

“He was what you would call a good friend to many people,” Alix, 69, said. “And he was my best friend.”

Most of their neighbours, in fact, did not know about his influential work. “They just knew him as someone who comes to cut their grass,” his wife said, adding he had cut three people’s lawns the week before he died.

Daughter Erica said that during her university years in Victoria, B.C., her father would visit her whenever he was on the West Coast for a conference. For three years, they attended the annual TerriVic Jazz Festival, where Hargreave would get up and dance with her.

The researcher also chose special activities or traditions unique to each of his two daughters and son. For Erica, 32, it was sundresses.

After Erica got the news about her father, a cousin helped her pack for the trip home from Vancouver. Erica later saw in her suitcase a “series” of sundresses her father had bought for her over the years.

“It was that moment of seeing that suitcase and seeing all those sundresses and wanting to burst into tears and at the same time thinking, in some ways, that’s kind of fitting if, at the funeral, I’m wearing one of the sundresses he bought me,” she said.

A celebration of Hargreave’s life will be held at Christ’s Church Cathedral on James Street North at 2 p.m. Thursday, followed by a reception.