A Veterinarian's Life

 A Veterinarian's Life

Blake Graham

A 'Sow's Ear to Silk Purse: Anecdotes from the Life of a Veterinarian', is a series of heart-warming stories that describe the life of retired veterinarian and real estate entrepreneur, Dr. Blake Graham of Southampton.

"I wanted to tell a story that would not only resonate with those who had lived through the Great Depression, but also with those who had not. At the same time, I wanted to leave a family history for my daughter and granddaughter."

Born in 1926, he begins with his early life growing up on a farm southeast of Sarnia in the Township of Dawn. The son of a carpenter father and schoolteacher mother, he and his three siblings all went to the one-room schoolhouse where "discipline was the order of the day". At just 11 years old, Graham graduated elementary school but couldn't enter formal high school until age 13.

"After only three years in high-school, it was a great disappointment to my parents when I quit in grade 12 at 16 and went to work. I worked first as a stevedore on a steamship and then on the Great Lakes oil tankers." After four years out on the water however, Graham could see that the tankers held little in the way of a future and, at the urging of his mother, returned to school to obtain his grade 13.

 It was finally his love of animals and the encouragement of his mother that resulted in his enrolling in the Ontario Veterinarian College in Guelph (OVC). During his third year at the college, he met the young nurse who would change his life, Barbara Baldwin and, the day after graduation in 1951, the two married. After 40 years of marriage, Barbara Graham died of cancer but not before the couple made the decision as part of a living will to share their good fortune.

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"We decided to bequest money to two schools, McMaster University where our daughter, Janet, graduated as a family physician," explains Graham, "and my alma mater, Ontario Veterinary College". "Rather than wait until my own death" he says, "I decided to go ahead with the donations on one condition - the two schools had to work together as a team. In fact, the two schools uniting together in human and animal research is unique in the world."

To get the project started, Graham set up the Barbara Graham Cancer Research Fund and initially donated $150,000 to each school with another $100,000 to be divided between them upon his demise. London Life Insurance matched the donation and the government also recognized the value of the project and donated a further $27 million toward building a new centre for research. "The money from the Fund has been specifically earmarked for cancer research," he adds. "There are many diseases that have human and animal similarities and research is the key to finding the links between them.

I have seen results, for myself, where gene modification of diseased cells has been done and then re-introduced back into the body (using mice). The immune system then attacks those same cells, resulting in substantial reductions of tumours. This is very exciting stuff when it comes to cancers!"

He goes on to point out that, "There are many exciting changes afoot in the world of medicine. We are on the brink of gene therapies that will have far-reaching impacts on things like leukemia, breast cancer and malignant melanomas. We are also seeing research surging ahead on diseases that are transferable between human and animal, such as avian or bird flu. I think the next few years are going to be very exciting ones and, if I can't be here in person, at least my money will be helping."

At 80 however, Graham shows no signs of slowing down. He has remarried and he and his wife, Joan, divide their time between their Florida home and Southampton. He also sits on several committees, is still involved with OVC and is often invited to speak at various functions. All proceeds from Dr. Graham's 'Sow's Ear to Silk Purse' go toward the cancer research fund that he initiated. The book can be obtained by calling Dr. Graham in Southampton at 519-797-1833, at the University of Guelph Bookstore 519-824-4120 or McMaster University at 1-800-238-1623.