Robert Tait McKenzie

Robert Tait McKenzie

Ramsey, Sudbury District, Ontario, Canada
Death 28 Apr 1938 (aged 70)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 28036490 · View Source
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Medical Pioneer, Artist. He was the son William McKenzie, who immigrated to Canada from Scotland, in 1858 and became minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Almonte. It is said that his character was profoundly affected at the age of nine, when following the death of his father and the need for the family to move out of the Manse, the congregation, out of affection for his mother and respect for his father, built a house for the young family. He attended Almonte High School and for a short time the Collegiate Institute, Ottawa before entering, in 1885, McGill University in Montreal as an undergraduate and medical student, where he worked through college on his own resources. Having previously shown no interest in physical activity his attitude changed while an undergraduate. He won the All-round Gymnastic Championship, was the Canadian Intercollegiate Champion in the high jump, a good hurdler, a first-rate boxer, and a member of the varsity football team. His two athletic specialties were swimming and fencing. He graduated from 1892 and got an internship at Montreal General Hospital. A year later he became instructor in anatomy and specialist in orthopedic surgery at McGill and also developed an active medical practice in Montreal where he was appointed house physician to the Governor-General of Canada, the Marquis of Aberdeen. He attained fame in the medical world at large by his original ideas on the treatment of scoliosis. His interest in sculpting was a result of his extensive knowledge of human anatomy and, his desire to portray athletics artistically in more than two-dimensional art forms. As an aid to his lectures in anatomy he made four experimental models of the progress of fatigue over the nerves and muscles of the face of an athlete known as Violent Effort, Breathlessness, Fatigue and Exhaustion. Shortly after, he produced two of his famous early works; The Sprinter (1902) and The Athlete (1903). He was convinced of the need for preventive medicine. Training and conditioning of the body, he believed, would prevent disease, physical breakdown and accidents, so he developed a program of physical exercise, and in 1904 he took a position at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which offered him a permanent faculty position, use of a new gymnasium, football stadium, running track and other recently constructed facilities, all of which gave him the opportunity to develop, test and implement his theories on health and athletics. While in Philadelphia, he worked closely with his good friend Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting, and shared the belief in the program of Scouting for boys. He was active in organising the first Philadelphia chapter of the Boy Scouts. Because of his own conviction that Scouting was, through the Oath and Law, a means of developing youth physically, mentally and morally into more vigorous manhood, it was quite fitting that he was called upon in to create the statue known as ‘The Boy Scout’ (The Ideal Scout). This is now considered to be his most famous sculpture; the original 1915 statuette is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the first full-size casting was placed in front of the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia in 1937, and stood there until 2013, and Replicas can be found at Boy Scouts of America councils across the United States, as well as at Gilwell Park in London, England, and at Scouts Canada's national office in Ottawa. At the outbreak of war he travelled to England and tried to join the Canadian Army, but due to a delay he applied to the Royal Army Medical Corps in which he was granted a commission, first as a lieutenant and later as a major. Although he applied for attachment to the Physical Training Headquarters Staff, he was sent to take a course in physical education, but after his colonel discovered that he had written the textbooks on which the course was based, he was sent instead on a tour of inspection of training camps and hospitals. Once the organisation of the training camps was complete, he spent six months working out of orthopedic care centers, with some of his work involving taking individuals disabled by war and designing specific prosthetic apparatus that would suit their needs. He also spent a large portion of his time helping plastic surgeon Dr. William L. Clark rehabilitate those whose faces had been disfigured by war. When the United States entered the war, he was encouraged to return to America to work with the office of the Surgeon-General of the United States Army. In 1918 he was appointed inspector of convalescent hospitals in the Canadian Medical service under the Military Hospitals Commission. After the war he returned to his position at the University of Pennsylvania and also continued to sculpture. Before World War I, he was recognized as the greatest sculptor of athletic youth but after the war, his war memorials brought forth his most magnificent contributions to mankind. His work, of over 200 pieces, is world-renowned, and is displayed all over the world as well as a collection that can be found at his former residence, the Mill of Kintail, also known as the R. Tait McKenzie Memorial Museum at the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area in Almonte. His sculpture earned him membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Additionally he was a longtime supporter and spectator at the Olympic Games. In 1904, when the Olympic Games were held in St. Louis, he lectured on topics of physical training as a feature of the general Olympic program. With two medical colleagues, he attempted for the first time to find out what takes place in the physiology of a marathon runner. To commemorate the Olympic Games scheduled for 1912 Stockholm, the American Olympic Committee commissioned him to create a sports medallion. The result was his famous plaque of three hurdlers known as the Joy of Effort of which the original is set into the wall of the Stockholm stadium and for which he received the King's Medal from the King of Sweden. He often exhibited works at the competition of fine arts and at the 1932 Summer Olympics he won a medal for a sculpture. Near the end of his life, he expressed a wish for his heart to be buried in front of the Scottish-American War Memorial, in Edinburgh, that he had created. When he died this request was denied by the city of Edinburgh, but his heart was subsequently buried in St. Cuthbert's churchyard.

Bio by: Peter Cox

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: raytracer
  • Added: 4 Jul 2008
  • Find a Grave Memorial 28036490
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Robert Tait McKenzie (26 May 1867–28 Apr 1938), Find a Grave Memorial no. 28036490, citing Saint Peter's Episcopal Churchyard, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .