As a graduate of McGill University, you’d think Dr. John Hewson would at least know which day is Sunday.
Apparently he never learned to read a calendar because he wears a three-piece suit, vest, tie, pouf in the lapel, fedora and dress shoes seven days a week, even when he’s picking up loose garbage on the street.
Hewson, who retired in 2000 from his job as Chief of the Department of Critical Care Medicine for Hamilton Health Sciences, has an easy explanation for why he’s always dressed to the nines.
“I’m showing respect for myself and other people,” he said. “I find people treat me better.
“I’ve had men in their 20s and 30s come up to me in a parking lot and say, ‘Boy do you look sharp’,
“To which I have a standard answer, ‘Give me an hour’s notice and you can borrow it!’
“I’ve worn a tie all my life. It’s nothing different for me.”
His sharp wit and wonderful sense of humour continues as we converse.
“But as I get older, I am getting more relaxed. I no longer wear my tuxedo in the shower!”
Hewson lives on the budget of a retiree. He has six suits and he bought them all used at Value Village for between $25 and $30 apiece. Yet, he looks like a million bucks every day.
For 23 years Hewson was in the business of saving lives as head of the Intensive Care Unit at Hamilton General Hospital. He sometimes worked 130 hours a week, checking on patients from bed to bed on top of all of his administrative duties. Some nights he wouldn’t go to bed at all.
In his retirement he has turned his talents to the literary world, publishing his first novel.
It tells the story of Daniel Corbett, a cardiac surgeon out on parole after serving 10 years in prison for murdering his wife. While playing piano at an upscale restaurant in Toronto, Corbett meets a woman he suspects could be looking after his estranged daughter. They eventually marry.
The theme, says Hewson, is that family is more about how you relate to people than how you are related to them.
Having taken piano lessons for four years as a boy, the author started a dance band during the years he was at McGill to help pay for his education. In a city as large as Montreal, he had to expect anything.
At midnight one New Year’s Eve the lights went out, two shots rang out in the hall where they were playing and the drummer crouched down behind the bass drum. The lights came on a minute later and it was discovered one of the dancers had fired two shots into the ceiling to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
In recent years Hewson has been tickling the ivories on weekends at The 400 Lounge of The Prince Hotel in Toronto.
In 2011 at the age of 70 he started acting. Playing the nasty role of a Nazi killer of Jews in Theatre Burlington’s production of The Handyman earned him the Western Ontario Drama League’s award for cameo appearance of the year.
He’s now rehearsing to play a judge in the world premiere of It’s Morning Now, which portrays the assassination of Darcy McGee. It’s a production of the Players Guild of Hamilton.
For the last eight years Hewson also has been tutoring for Literacy South Halton, an organization that puts a whole new focus on life for people who never learned to read.
“I have more ham in me than a pig,” he said. “I just love getting up before a class and teaching.
“I really get great pleasure out of seeing people acquire life skills that will help them cope better.”
Hewson also is a member of both the Salvation Army Hamilton/Halton Citizen’s Advisory Board and the Mohawk College International External Advisory Board.
When he does have a minute to spare, he might be spotted driving his 1939 MG TB through the countryside with an old bag of golf clubs sticking out of the back. The treasured vehicle came off the assembly line on Oct. 6, 1939.
It’s a step forward from the 1958 Volkswagen Beetle he used to drive to medical school at McGill.
In 1997 as Secretary-General of The World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical Care, he hosted The Seventh World Congress of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine in Ottawa. He is Professor Emeritus at McMaster University and has lectured across Canada and around the world.
Hewson strongly believes that we are, or should be, our brother’s keeper.
He followed that philosophy when he was at Hamilton General, where he saw countless victims recovering from surgery after gunshot and knife wounds and occasionally had the gruesome task of removing the remains of people killed in car accidents.
“If you’ve stopped caring, you’ve gone too cold,” he said. “If you care too much, you become paralyzed and don’t make the right decisions.
“You have to keep walking that line.”