Mamadosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Tributes to the Late Honourable Wilbert J. Keon, O.C.

Tributes to the Late Honourable Wilbert J. Keon, O.C.

Tributes to the Late Honourable Wilbert J. Keon, O.C.

Hon. Jim Munson: 

Honourable senators, Dr. Willie Keon was a friend, a friend of everyone, a friend in the Senate and a friend of mine.

When he passed away a month ago, Ottawa, Canada and the rest of the world lost a selfless man — a selfless man who really lived the meaning of the concern of others rather than with his own.


What can you say about a person who spent his entire life as a doctor, giving? Well, there is much to say. In this community, it seems everybody knew someone whose life had been saved because of the humble heart surgeon who cared. Maybe it was his Irish roots in the small community of Sheenboro, Quebec. If you are from around here, Sheenboro, as they say, is just up the line in the Ottawa Valley.

Maybe it was because he was the youngest of 13 children. Maybe it was because he came from a close-knit family where people cared for each other. Whatever it was, this humble and, in many respects, shy man created a “world class centre for cardiovascular excellence,” in the words of Dr. Robert Roberts who succeeded Dr. Keon at the Ottawa Heart Institute.

Dr. Keon was a visionary, an innovative cardiac surgeon who performed Ottawa’s first heart transplant and Canada’s first artificial heart transplant. He was a doctor with a common touch, a good heart and a caring manner. In his lifetime, he performed more than 10,000 open-heart surgeries.

At his funeral, they came from every walk of life. James Brooks was a patient 30 years ago. In his words:

Seeing my family grow, playing with my grandkids now . . . he’s made a monumental difference in my life . . . I would not be here today, I can guarantee you that.

Honourable senators and to those who didn’t know him, I wish you could have seen Dr. Keon in the Senate. I got to know him well as a rookie member of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. I wanted to do something about autism. It was Dr. Keon who guided me on a path of persuasion in convincing the committee to do the report Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis. This report is a template in the autism community across the country as we fight for a national autism spectrum disorder strategy.

In that same quiet and diligent manner he was one of the key architects of a number of landmark Senate reports, as has been said by other senators, including Out of the Shadows at Last, dealing with mental health.

Dr. Wilbert Keon didn’t need headlines. He just needed and wanted to help and heal others. He didn’t look at the Senate through a political lens, but as a platform where ideas could become policy and policy could lead to programs.

He really believed in the common good. The good doctor saved lives, allowed people to live longer, and along the way he gave and gave and gave.

Dr. Keon was a selfless man. Thank you.