The Founders and Futurists of UBC Medicine

Background: the Friedman Building, UBC Vancouver. Foreground: (L)Dr. Constance Livingstone-Friedman, (R) Dr. Sydney Friedman
Background: the Friedman Building, UBC Vancouver.
Foreground: (L)Dr. Constance Livingstone-Friedman, (R) Dr. Sydney Friedman. All photos courtesy of The UBC Library Archives.

As two of the founding faculty members of the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Sydney Friedman (1916-2015) and Dr. Constance Livingstone-Friedman (1920-2011) contributed to UBC for over 60 years. They were outstanding educators who supported the University through their pioneering work
as well as many generous gifts and donations. In 2016, UBC received the Friedman’s largest gift from their estate, one which has made an indelible impact on their legacy at UBC.

Sydney and Constance both attended medical school and were PhD graduates of McGill, where they met. They married in 1940 and taught in the department of anatomy for almost ten years. In 1950, their lives would change course. They were invited as the first faculty appointments of the new medical school at the University of British Columbia and embarked on a cross-country adventure to their new home.
“UBC Medicine had very humble beginnings: when Sydney and Constance arrived, they worked initially out of two repurposed army huts,” said Al Boggie, director of the Friedman Foundation. “It is an amazing tribute to their hard work that, over the next thirty years, UBC Medicine grew from that into a truly world-class education and research program with connections around the world.”

Sydney held the position of Professor and Department Head in the Department of Anatomy (1950-1981), while Constance taught Anatomy and Histology classes to medical and dental students (1950-1985). Together, they published more than 200 research papers on salt and hypertension. Sydney, who was a talented artist and often impressed students with his ambidextrous renderings of anatomy, would also publish the three volume Visual Anatomy series, a definitive collection still used by students and professionals around the world.

Over their careers at UBC, the Friedmans would touch the lives of thousands of medical and dentistry students. As dedicated teachers, they passionately believed in the power of education and often supported their convictions out of pocket, generously donating not just to UBC Medicine but to other parts of UBC and organizations that had touched them during their time at UBC.

For instance, when Constance passed away in 2011, Sydney donated her collection of art and jewellery—11 pieces created by famed Haida artist Bill Reid—to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. The collection, assessed at over $500,000, held many fine examples of Reid’s early work. Constance had cherished these pieces in life, and wanted them placed in the museum where everyone could enjoy them.

As a tribute to Constance, Sydney created a charitable foundation and established the Drs. Sydney and Constance Friedman Travel Award to honour her strong belief that a broader perspective gained through travel makes a better physician. The travel awards go to graduating MDs to be used before their residencies. Similar thinking was behind the Friedman Award for Scholars in Health, an award that Sydney later shaped during several conversations with Friedman Foundation Director and close friend Chuck Slonecker. Each year, up to four scholarships of $25,000 to $50,000 are awarded to allow graduate students in health sciences or medical residents to pursue learning opportunities in other areas of the world, for six or more months of study, to seek new perspectives and learn from experts in their fields.

Sydney was touched by the impact of these awards on students. He often mentioned to friends how much he enjoyed seeing the effects of his philanthropy in action. It was shortly after that he tasked the foundation with using the proceeds of his estate to benefit UBC.

The largest part of their estate was the Friedman home. Designed by Dr. Frederic Lasserre (the first Head of the UBC School of Architecture) with landscaping by the iconic Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the house is generally regarded as a stunning example of West Coast modernism. The Foundation recently sold the home to a young family who intend to preserve its unique cultural legacy.

In 2015, Sydney passed away, just a day short of his 99th birthday. The proceeds from the sale of his home, which had dramatically increased in value since its construction in 1953, resulted in an incredible gift to UBC that will have a far greater impact than either he or Constance ever dreamed.

Significant estate funds were contributed to endow the Friedman Award for Scholars in Health and the Friedman Travel Award in perpetuity. The Friedman Award for Scholars in Health has already taken more than a dozen UBC students to institutions around the world, where they are studying everything from genetic abnormalities to assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Such experiences have had an indelible impact on student education—not to mention on other institutions, and, in future, on patients across BC and around the world. And now, with the estate proceeds, more students will gain these valuable experiences that will broaden their education.

“Sydney and Constance dedicated their lives to UBC Medicine, to creating a school that would provide students with a world class institution,” said Roseanne McIndoe of the Friedman Foundation. “The Foundation was delighted to be able to dedicate their estate to extending their legacy—to ensure that UBC Medicine could continue to expand and contribute, just as they had done during their lives.”

The Friedman home, designed by Dr. Frederic Lasserre
The Friedman home, designed by Dr. Frederic Lasserre. Photo Courtesy of Michael Perlmuter from the Book ‘House Friedman’