Ontario physician Dr Charles Godfrey, who practiced medicine until the age of 102, making him one of the oldest people to ever practice medicine in North America, has died. He was 104 and died at his home in Madoc, Ontario, just weeks shy of his 105th birthday.
“He had been quite vigorous up until that point,” his son, Mark Godfrey, told CTV News.
If it wasn’t for the pandemic, his father would have probably continued practicing for a little while longer, he added. “He was the smartest guy in the room, all my life, any room we were in,” he said.
Charles Morris Godfrey was born September 24, 1917, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to Wikipedia, but his family moved to Toronto when he was 7 years old. His father, a physiotherapist, encouraged Godfrey to study medicine.
Godfrey served in the Canadian military for 5½ years during World War II and qualified as a physiotherapist while serving.
After the war, he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and earned his degree in 1953. He paid for his tuition by working as a janitor and scrapyard worker.
In 1956, he studied neurology at Oxford University on a McLaughlin fellowship and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1958. He also earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962 and his Master of Arts degree in 1975. He was studying for his PhD in the late 1980s, when he was in his 70s.
Upon his return from England in the late 1950s, Godfrey became director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Toronto East General Hospital. He subsequently worked at Toronto General Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital, and the Toronto Rehab Hospital before joining Wellesley Hospital’s rheumatic disease unit, ultimately becoming head of the hospital’s rehabilitation clinic.
Godfrey was a professor in the Department of Rehabilitative Medicine at the University of Toronto for over two decades. He was working 13-hour days teaching and maintaining his own practicewell into his 70s. He would spend weekends at his country home in Madoc.
For over 20 years, he and his wife Margaret, a nurse, would spend 6 weeks each year as volunteers traveling to developing countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, on lecture tours on behalf of CARE. Godfrey chaired CARE/MEDICO from 1983 to 1985 and subsequently served as chairman of CARE’s International Health Advisory Committee. In 1986, he was awarded the organization’s Distinguished Service Award.
In 1989, Godfrey was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. His citation reads as follows:
“Deeply committed to humankind and the elimination of human suffering, and although of retirement age, he continues to be involved in an exhausting round of activity. Professor Emeritus of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Toronto, an environmentalist who was instrumental in the ‘People or Planes’ campaign opposing construction of the Pickering airport and a director of CARE/MEDICO, each year he takes his heart-felt concern for the welfare of the global community to Third World countries as a visiting volunteer doctor.”
Godfrey was also a political activist. When he learned about plans to build an international airport near his home in Uxbridge, Ontario, he organized People or Planes, a group that successfully opposed the proposed airport. He was elected to the Ontario legislature as the Ontario New Democratic Party’s candidate for Durham West and served for 2 years as the NDP’s environment critic.
In 2020, grandson Frazey Ford posted a clip of his “immortal grandfather” being interviewed by David Suzuki as part of a CBC documentary on aging well.
Godfrey shared his secret to a long life: “The main thing is to keep interested in life,” he told Suzuki.
“That’s the secret, of course. If you stick in front of your television, you lose your interest in life. That’ll kill you next week. Certainly, the quality of stuff that’s being peddled on television these days is enough to make you wanna die pretty soon.”
A spokesperson for the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine told CTV News that Godfrey was still working at four medical clinics in Toronto 4 days a week, even at age 102.
“He possessed a remarkable longevity in his practice, supported by his enduring love for medicine and incredible care for his patients,” the university said.