It is hard to imagine being pleasantly surprised when coming to a hospital for myeloma treatment. But when Dr. James (Jim) Drewry Stewart realized he would be receiving treatment from Dr. Lisa Hicks, a malignant hematologist and former student of his, he couldn’t believe it.
The two met many years ago when Dr. Hicks took Jim’s calculus course at McMaster University. Even back then Jim was something extraordinary. “There were 45 of us in his class and we got to know him well. He was very involved in the university community. He was an accomplished mathematician and violinist—often inviting students to ‘jam’ after class. All of the students loved him,” recalls Dr. Hicks.
Photo: Dr. James (Jim) Drewry Stewart
Not only was he an accomplished mathematician, he was a gifted teacher. He had a reputation on campus for making difficult mathematical concepts easy to understand. For years, grateful students urged him to write a textbook. And in 1989 when he finally did, it became a bestseller. Today his calculus books are used by teachers and students worldwide, holding 90 per cent of the market share in Canada, 75 per cent in the U.S. and 50 per cent abroad.
Jim also had an incredible personality. He was a champion of LGBTQ causes and threw amazing parties. But one of his most eye-catching achievements was the unique five-storey house he built in Rosedale. He called it the “Integral House” and hosted many gatherings there, including concerts for up to 150 people. The director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art called Jim’s home “one of the most important private homes in North America.”
Jim’s personality and passion continued to shine even after he became ill. Diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma in the summer of 2013, he frequently visited St. Michael’s Hospital where he was reunited with Dr. Hicks after their many years apart. “Jim still had that charm that he possessed years ago,” remembers Dr. Hicks.
From left: Dr. Lisa Hicks, Don Smith and Dr. Abdullah Alamer
A couple of weeks before Jim passed, he threw a giant party – a “wake,” while still alive. Among the large crowd were many artists, politicians, and a special violinist – who played a very valuable violin in Jim’s honour. “He commanded a lot of respect from various communities but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. To us he was ‘just Jim,’” Don Smith, Jim’s brother-in-law, recalls.
Jim was extraordinarily appreciative of the support and care he received from Dr. Hicks and others at St. Michael’s. When he died, a part of his estate went to create a new fellowship, the James Drewry Stewart Fellowship in Multiple Myeloma and Malignant Hematology, to find new treatments and train promising young physicians.
Although myeloma treatment has advanced tremendously over the years, there is an ever growing need to train clinicians and researchers. “People are living longer with myeloma, but they continue to have enormous care requirements during their illness and a cure remains elusive” says Dr. Hicks.
Dr. Abdullah Alamer became the first Stewart fellow in January, 2018 and already is profoundly impressed with the training he has received. “I have seen more myeloma patients here in the past five months than I saw over two years at my last hospital, and treatments I have only read about in textbooks. I am getting the sufficient training and exposure needed to treat people with malignant myeloma and lymphoma.”
Jim may be gone, but his legacy continues. Brilliant mathematician, champion of equality and unrivalled entertainer. But what Jim was really known for was investing in the lives of others. And he continues to do this well.
To learn more about how to leave a bequest to St. Michael’s Foundation in your will, contact Cynthia Collantes, Director, Gift Planning at 416.864.5879 or CollantesC@smh.ca