Dr. Matthew Warren Spence OC, MD, PhD, LLD (hon)
Dr. Matthew Spence is a respected medical clinician, researcher and administrator who has been instrumental in developing Alberta’s international reputation as a health research leader. As President and CEO of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, he created innovative and widely emulated strategies for health research funding that have fostered emerging areas of research and attracted top researchers to the province. His work has served to enhance the health and well being of his fellow Albertans and all Canadians.
Matt Spence was born in Chatham, Ontario on November 18, 1934 while his parents, Clarence and Olive Spence, were returning to Western Canada from Ithaca, New York. The family stopped in Chatham to welcome their second child into the world and soon resumed their journey west, settling first in Saskatoon, then Edmonton, with regular sojourns at the family farm in Rimbey, Alberta.
Like his father, Matt greatly enjoyed farm life, describing it as an ideal place for a young boy to grow up. He refers to his mother as the quintessential “Western Mom,” which he defines as a woman with clear visions of her children receiving a post-secondary education. As a result, all three Spence children earned multiple university degrees. As a boy, Matt had dreams of becoming a fireman or a milk man but, by the time he approached university, it was medicine that interested him most.
He earned a degree in Medicine from the University of Alberta, followed by a PhD in neurochemistry from McGill University. Dr. Spence spent the early part of his career as a physician-researcher and educator in Montreal. It was there that he met and married his wife Cynthia, a nurse at a Sherbrooke hospital where Dr. Spence was completing his intern rotations.
In the early 1970's, Dr. Spence was given an opportunity to build on his growing strengths as a physician and researcher when he was recruited to work at the I. W. Killam Hospital for Children and Dalhousie University in Halifax. He focused on both paediatrics and brain chemistry and began to build a noteworthy research career. During his time in Halifax, Dr. Spence lent his growing knowledge and expertise to many national organizations including, the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded, the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation and numerous committees within the Medical Research Council. His research efforts were recognized when he received a prestigious Medical Research Council Associateship Award.
In 1990, Dr. Spence was offered the position as President and CEO of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). Dr. Spence jumped at the opportunity to return to his native Alberta and to head an organization that he considered to be pioneering medical research in Canada. As leader of the Foundation, he played a key role in its work to develop and invest in Alberta’s growing research strengths, including efforts to expand the ranks of the province’s health researchers and to encourage young Albertans to consider a career in medical research.
During his 13-year tenure with the Foundation, Dr. Spence championed improvements in health services research and population health research. As a result of his work, many outstanding researchers have been attracted to the province to conduct world-class research. This has resulted in funding from outside the province and has helped to make Alberta a leader in health research. Largely due to Dr. Spence’s efforts, AHFMR has been highly-rated by three international boards of review, making Alberta the envy of other provinces and countries around the world. Thanks to his leadership, current and future generations of Albertans will enjoy significant benefits from AHFMR research.
Even during the busiest years of his research career, Dr. Spence continued to provide his services to Canadians as a physician. He has also generously given his time and expertise to numerous professional organizations, including the Medical Research Council, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. In 2005, Dr. Spence’s considerable contributions to his province were recognized when he was named one of Alberta’s “Physicians of the Centruy.” Among other awards and recognition, Dr. Spence received an honourary doctorate degree from the University of Alberta and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2004.
As a passionate ambassador for health research, Dr. Spence has brought tremendous respect, honour and recognition to the province of Alberta. He came to the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research with a vision to make Alberta a major powerhouse in the health research field. That vision is being realized. Thanks to his energy, hard work and dedication, Alberta can now claim a significant international presence in many areas of health research. That claim would not be possible without the considerable contributions of leaders like Dr. Matthew Spence.