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Building on a family legacy

Building on a family legacy

[photo of Michael J. Lynch, Meds'58]
Michael Lynch, Meds'58

At home in East Aurora, N.Y., Dr. Michael Lynch, Meds’58, reflects on what he’s most proud of in life. His children, obviously. They’re all grown now, and well established in their own careers. His own profession, as a psychiatrist, in which he helped so many people over the years. He’s proud of the work of his father Gerald, also a doctor, who inspired Michael to go to Queen’s to study medicine and serve his community in a healing profession.

Like many of us, Michael Lynch is curious about his family history. He’s done a lot of genealogical research, which, combined with family stories passed down through the generations, tells the history of the Lynch family: the ones who took risks, who suffered great losses, and who kept striving to make a better life for their children. Dr. Lynch has honoured some of his forebears in the named gifts he has made to Queen’s University. Without them, he wouldn’t be where he is today, the proud patriarch of a successful family, a noted medical expert, now retired, in both forensic psychiatry and in the diagnosis and treatment of depression.

Michael Lynch’s great-grandfather, Daniel Lynch, immigrated to Canada from County Kerry in Ireland in 1869. A stonemason, he settled in Kingston with his wife and young son. But in 1885, Daniel was tragically killed in a workplace accident, as he was building a porch on Bagot Street.

“That left my grandfather, who had already lost his mother, an orphan at the age of 15,” says Michael Lynch. “In my mind, he was, in his own way, the most successful of the family – he built himself up the most.”

After Daniel’s death, his son, Michael Joseph Lynch, found solace and support from the local Catholic community, through the Knights of Columbus and as a member of the congregation at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Michael must have been reminded of his late father every time he stepped into the cathedral, its walls hewn and shaped from local limestone by skilled masons like Daniel. Michael Joseph Lynch became a salesman with the dry goods company Macnee & Minnes. Later, as he was established in his career, he gave back to his church community. A marble plaque in the nave of St. Mary’s Cathedral on Johnson Street pays tribute to 15 benefactors who contributed to the cathedral’s expansion in the early 1900s. Each name is paired with a painting of a saint donated to the cathedral. Michael Joseph Lynch was the donor responsible for the painting of St. Louis, donated in memory of his parents. St. Louis is the patron saint of stonemasons and orphans.

Michael and his wife, Helen, raised four boys in Kingston. But sadly, Michael didn’t live to see his sons into adulthood: he died at the age of 44 in 1914. His oldest son, M. Gerald, was only 15. Gerald and his three brothers all went on to attend Queen’s. In 1921, Gerald graduated from Queen’s Medicine; Daniel O’Gorman followed, graduating from Medicine in 1922. Michael Leo graduated from Arts in 1925 and Commerce in 1927. George graduated from Medicine in 1931.

[1921 photo of M. Gerald Lynch]
M. Gerald Lynch, MD'21

M. Gerald Lynch, MD'21, became a family doctor, settling in Webster, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester. He was a well-known and respected member of the community. When he retired in 1967, the town of Webster declared a community-wide Dr. Michael Gerald Lynch Day. A testimonial dinner was thrown in his honour, and 500 people, many of them former patients, attended the event.

Not only did M. Gerald Lynch inspire two of his brothers to follow his lead to study medicine at Queen’s, he inspired his son, Michael John Lynch, as well. Michael’s class, Medicine ’58, was a small, close-knit one facing a very tough curriculum. The class started, in 1952, with 64 students; only 44 of them graduated six years later. “The set-up at that time was,” Dr. Lynch remembers, “you took an exam at the end of the year. And if you failed it, you took a supplemental exam in August. If you failed that, then you repeated your entire year, including the subjects you had passed.”

[1958 graduation photo of Michael Lynch]
Michael Lynch's 1958 graduation photo

Michael Lynch graduated and went on to specialize in psychiatry. “Truthfully,” he says, “it was probably to take a look at myself and try to find out how I became the person that I am. Psychiatry was a whole new branch of medicine. I found it fascinating!” He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 1961 to study at Maudsley Hospital, a psychiatric facility in London, U.K.

Returning to the U.S., he started in private practice and took his board exams to become certified in psychiatry. Over the years, he focused on forensic psychiatry, a field at the intersection of medicine and law. He became well known as an expert on the insanity defence. He was appointed to serve on an American Psychiatric Association (APA) panel that advised the Supreme Court on psychiatric issues.

But as established in his career as he was, Dr. Lynch’s studying days weren’t over. In 1994, the APA created a sub-specialty in forensic psychiatry. “The APA decided that there were 356 people in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain who were eligible to take the exam, myself included,” recalls Dr. Lynch. “I had hoped that they would grandfather me in. But no such luck. So, at 61, I took the first forensic psychiatry exam, and I passed.”

Michael Lynch has many career successes to look back on, but his proudest professional accomplishment is his work in treating depression. “I was able to help people get well, many of them who were sick for years, not properly diagnosed. I cannot tell you how emotionally rewarding that was.” He goes on to say, “Getting into medicine gives you an opportunity to serve your fellow man. My career in forensic psychiatry and in treating depression was the most rewarding thing I could have done.”

Getting through medical school takes a lot of hard work, skill, perseverance ... and resources. To honour the people who, through their own hard work, skill, and perseverance, made his life journey possible, Michael Lynch, Meds’58, set up funds to help the next generation of medical students at Queen’s. These awards are given annually on the basis of financial need and academic achievement.

  • The Dr. M. Gerald Lynch Award in Medicine for students entering the second year of Queen’s Medicine
  • The Michael Joseph Lynch Excellence Award in Medicine for students entering the third year of Queen’s Medicine 
  • The Dan Lynch Award for students entering the final year of Queen’s Medicine

 Dr. Lynch has also generously remembered Queen’s in his estate. His bequests will ensure that the awards that he set up will grow in years to come and will also establish a Chair in Psychiatry. Dr. Lynch’s gifts to Queen’s will not only reduce the financial burden for medical students, they will also provide resources to recruit leading faculty and ensure continued excellence in medical education and research.

If you would like more information on how to create your own meaningful legacy at Queen’s University, please contact the Gift Planning office at gift.planning@queensu.ca or by calling 1-800-267-7837.

This story is part of the "Planning makes a difference" section of the Queen's Alumni Review. Other articles in this series include "Gifts of cultural property" and "Choosing your executors."

[cover image of the Queen's Alumni Review issue 2, 2020 featuring Ali Velshi, Artsci'94]