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Queen’s remembers Professor Emeritus David Symington

The Queen’s community is remembering Dr. David Symington, Professor Emeritus and founding director of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, who passed away on May 27, 2020. He was 91.

David Symington
Professor Emeritus David Symington was the founding director of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen's University. (Provided photo)

Along with establishing the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and developing teaching programs at Queen’s for occupational therapy and physiotherapy, Dr. Symington also served as head of Rehabilitation Medicine within the university affiliated hospitals.

“We owe the existence of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy to Dr. Symington. Over 50 years of graduates, faculty and staff have been fortunate to be part of the rehabilitation community in Kingston and beyond because of his vision for our unit,” says Marcia Finlayson, Vice-Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences and Director, School of Rehabilitation Therapy.

For those who worked with him, Dr. Symington was perhaps best known for his ever-present smile, humility, and genuine care for his patients, students, and colleagues.

Born and raised in Eaglesham, a village on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, Dr. Symington graduated from medical school at University of Glasgow in 1951. He then completed a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation in London in 1955, while at the same time serving as squadron leader with the Royal Air Force.

He would then move to Canada in 1957, first settling in Vancouver where he served as assistant medical director at the G. F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre and Greater Vancouver Cerebral Palsy Clinic for five years. In 1962 he moved to Seattle to take up a position as assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Washington.

In 1966 he was recruited by Queen’s to establish the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Due in large part to his efforts, the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, initially called the School of Rehabilitation Medicine, would open its doors a year later. He was the founding professor and head of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and the founding director of the Regional Rehabilitation Centre for Eastern Ontario from 1966 until 1982.

Dr. Symington remained in the director role of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy for seven years and continued as a professor until his retirement in 1993, when he was appointed Emeritus Professor. In 1983, while continuing to teach, research and clinical practice he accepted a position as senior consultant in rehabilitation with the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Since then the School of Rehabilitation Therapy continues to make active contributions to and engage with local community members and has expanded through interprofessional and international research collaborations, community development projects, and many other initiatives, to contribute to the daily lives of individuals and communities regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Throughout his career Dr. Symington was involved in numerous committees locally, provincially, nationally and internationally including being a member of the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Panel on Rehabilitation. Among the many positions he held, Dr. Symington also served as chair of the Medical Committee for Rehabilitation International.

He was invited as a visiting professor and lecturer by numerous universities and hospitals across Canada and the United States and numerous countries including Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, Scotland, Portugal, Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia and New Zealand.

Throughout his career he was very interested in vocational rehabilitation and strongly believed in giving people with disabilities support in returning to independence.

A small private funeral was held on Monday, June 8 with family only due to current COVID-19 restrictions. A larger celebration of life is planned for the future when it is safe for larger groups to gather.