Dr. William A. Cochrane OC, MD, FRCPC, FACP, DABP, D.Sc. (hon), LLD (hon)
Dr. William Cochrane’s career has spanned the fields of medicine, biomedical research, education and business. His considerable facility in, and dedication to, each of these fields has produced lasting contributions to the health and well being of people across Canada.
William Arthur Cochrane was born in 1926 to Arthur and Olive Cochrane and grew up in Toronto’s working-class east end. He inherited a solid work ethic from both parents and a strong drive from his mother, who always emphasized the importance of education to both Bill and his brother, Ted.
Bill was a keen student who was inspired by his family’s doctor to pursue medical studies. He graduated from University of Toronto in 1949 and completed post-graduate work at leading medical schools in the United States and England before returning to Toronto to establish a private paediatrics practice. He specialized in treating difficult cases and also began research into carbohydrate disorders at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. He soon decided to dedicate his full energies to research and teaching.
Dr. Cochrane and his wife, Phyllis, moved their young family to Halifax in 1958 where Bill established the first full-time medical research program in paediatrics at the Children’s Hospital and became Professor of Paediatrics at Dalhousie University. He divided his time between teaching medicine and conducting pioneering research into paediatric metabolic disorders. Dr. Cochrane also put his natural talents as a leader and businessman to work in the building and development of the I.W. Killam Hospital for Children in Halifax and began forming his own vision of how doctors should be trained.
He was given the opportunity to make that vision a reality in 1967 as founding Dean of Medicine for the University of Calgary. Dr. Cochrane happily took on the challenge of building a medical school from the ground up, instituting a new integrated and interdisciplinary approach to medical education that has since become the norm across Canada.
For the next 11 years, Dr. Cochrane served in a number of leadership roles at the University of Calgary, including Dean of Medicine, Professor of Paediatrics, President and Vice Chancellor. His time at the university was interrupted in 1973 for a brief secondment to the Alberta government where he served as deputy minister of Health.
In 1978, Dr. Cochrane took his career in a new direction when he returned to Ontario as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Connaught Laboratories. During his tenure with the company, Connaught became a major international developer of flu vaccines for the World Health Organization and other international health agencies. The company’s developments, which included insulin, plasma products and vaccines, served to improve the quality of life of people across Canada and around the world.
After 10 years at the helm of Connaught, Dr. Cochrane returned to Calgary where he took on new challenges as President of W.A. Cochrane and Associates. The move only strengthened his reputation as a leading force in the Canadian biotechnology and research communities. His unique blend of medical and entrepreneurial skills has helped many scientists move their biomedical research from the lab to commercial applications.
During his career, Dr. Cochrane has shared his leadership with a range of organizations, from the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee, the Alberta Research Council, the Alberta Economic Development Authority and the Alberta Science and Research Authority, to private sector ventures such as Vencap Equities Alberta, Oncolytics Biotech, Q.S.V. Biologics and Resverlogix Biotech Inc. His extensive contributions to the non-profit sector include service to the Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities Foundation, the Canada/China Child Health Foundation, the Calgary Rotary Club and the Banff Centre.
Dr. Cochrane was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1989. He holds many other honours, including a National Merit Award for his contribution to biotechnology in Canada, ASTech Foundation and BioAlberta awards for his contributions to Alberta’s science and technology sector and three honourary degrees from universities in Canada. In 1971, he was made an honourary Medicine Chief of the Stoney Nation of Morley, Alberta in recognition of his contributions to the health of Aboriginal people. In 2005, the Alberta Medical Association named Dr. Cochrane one of Alberta’s “Physicians of the Century.”
While some might see his careers as a doctor and entrepreneur as being disparate, Dr. Cochrane describes them as being dependant on one’s ability to “deal with people and keep the team balanced.” He adds that his greatest satisfaction comes from being connected to the success of others.
Dr. William Cochrane’s role in the successes of Canada’s medical, educational and biomedical communities is evident in the many schools, labs and businesses across the country that have benefited from his vision and leadership. He has a unique ability to envisage change and make it a reality and that skill has changed his province and his country for the better.