Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dr. John Mason Little

by Ronald Rompkey
LITTLE, JOHN MASON, surgeon and hospital administrator; b. 9 June 1875 in Boston, son of John Mason Little and Helen Beal; m. 24 Sept. 1911 Ruth Esther Keese in St Anthony, Nfld, and they had five sons and one daughter; d. 23 March 1926 in Brookline, Mass.
      Little’s early career seems to have been marked by self-indulgence. In 1907 he attempted to “cure” himself by volunteering to serve with the medical mission founded by Dr Wilfred Thomason Grenfell at St Anthony, Nfld. Grenfell required a sound hospital administrator and a surgeon to carry out a full range of procedures, especially those associated with tuberculosis, the most devastating affliction in the colony. A keen outdoorsman as well as a bon viveur, Little revelled in the physical demands of the job, patrolling the Northern Peninsula by dog team in winter and sailing along the Labrador coast in summer. In short order, he gained recognition as one of the most competent surgeons in Newfoundland and transformed a pioneer hospital into a centre for advanced work. He wrote his mother with some self-satisfaction in June 1908, “I have not a doubt whatsoever that should I want to stay here I could have the whole surgical practice of Newfoundland in a not very long time.” Later that year, fearing that he would be lured to a more lucrative practice, Grenfell broke his fundamental rules of voluntary involvement and primary commitment to mission work and offered Little (a Unitarian) an annual salary of $1,000, which he accepted on the understanding that he would not have to participate in the mission’s religious activities.
      By 1917 Little was ready to re-enter the medical community in Boston, where his father was prepared to back him. In addition to his differences with Grenfell, he had not been well for two years. The physical demands of his work had become increasingly difficult, and he had a growing family to consider. He tendered his resignation in June 1917 and left in October with his wife, an American who had taught at St Anthony, and their four children. He was subsequently appointed surgeon to outpatients at Massachusetts General, visiting surgeon to the Long Island Hospital, and instructor in surgical technique at the Harvard Medical School. He later became medical examiner of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company and chief surgeon of the Boston and Albany Railroad.

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