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It is with sad hearts and deep respect that we acknowledge the recent passing of Dr. John Foerster, former Executive Director of St. Boniface Hospital Research, and a veritable pillar in the academic, scientific research, medical and faith communities, both here at home, and internationally.

“The legacy of excellence and compassion Dr. Foerster left with St. B is a fitting example of his shining humanity and integrity.  We are all saddened to hear of his passing,” shared Martine Bouchard, President & CEO, St. Boniface Hospital. 

The first Executive Director of Research at St. Boniface Hospital (1986-2005), he was recruited specifically for the purpose of raising teaching and research to higher levels of excellence and productivity. Dr John Foerster was a Professor at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Medicine and a specialist in hematology and oncology. He was named head of medicine at St. Boniface Hospital in 1975 at the age of 40.

“Dr. Foerster championed, in words and actions, the importance and impact of service to others. His kindness and humility brought people together to accomplish great things. He fostered medical research at St. Boniface Hospital from a dream to the vibrant reality that thrives today, and his legacy is writ large in the research campus that he was instrumental in building, and that continues to benefit the people of Manitoba, Canada and the world,” said Dr. Michael Czubryt, Interim Executive Director, St. Boniface Hospital Research.

Foerster recruited the first Research Centre program in 1987 (Cardiovascular Sciences), comprised of five faculty members, 40 students, and staff supported by a modest research budget. By his retirement, Foerster had guided its’ growth to more than 190 research and support personnel with a budget of over $7,000,000. The 14 research programs were directly linked to clinical departments – in infectious diseases, respiratory medicine, nephrology, cardiology, clinical nursing research and cancer research.

In 1990, he championed Manitoba’s first Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner – used for research and clinical applications – now the Andrei Sakharov MRI Centre. With Foerster’s leadership, St. Boniface Hospital opened the Centre for Research on Diseases of the Aging in the Research Centre in 1998, which now bears his name. Further growth of the enterprise required the creation of additional space and resulted in the construction of the Asper Clinical Research Institute, which opened its doors in 2006.

Foerster received the 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Manitoba Alumni Association for his contribution to the University, the medical profession, and advancing medical research in the province.

“Words are not enough to express the loss that we all feel with John’s passing. Dr Foerster was a true visionary, his insight and forward thinking commitment to bettering the lives of the sick led to the creation of the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre, which has flourished into a global research enterprise, known the world over for its leadership in innovative health research. He was a very special person to me. We are forever grateful to Dr John Foerster for his wisdom, vision and kind hearted personality; he will be sadly missed,” shared Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum, Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital Research.

Dr. Foerster also received the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation’s International Award in 2006. These awards largely recognized his leadership abilities as Executive Director of Research for St Boniface Hospital, however, the commitment he demonstrated throughout his professional and volunteer activities encompassed an impressively broad scope of influence in all aspects of life – from national granting agencies and medical ethics to involvement in two seminaries and his church.

“John was a mentor, a role model, such a caring and gentle soul, the epitome of a scholar and a gentleman. He helped me throughout my career and was incredibly honourable when he stepped away to let me move into the Executive Director position. Above all, he was a quiet but strongly convicted man of God, someone who knew right from wrong, the ethical and moral way to conduct himself, something we are so sadly missing in so many today,” said Dr. Grant Pierce, Distinguished Professor, University of Manitoba, and Executive Director for St. Boniface Hospital Research from 2005 to 2020.

In 2016, Dr. Foerster was named a member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to health care administration and the creation of St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre. That same year, he was inducted into the St. Boniface Hospital Research Hall of Fame.

Fellow Order of Canada recipient, Dr. Naranjan S. Dhalla, had this to say, “Dr. John Foerster was the prime moving force for the development of St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre and promoted collaborations between the Hospital and the University of Manitoba. He inspired others to achieve excellence in both biomedical and clinical research for finding solutions to diverse health problems.” 

On behalf of all the staff and students at St. Boniface Hospital Research, our sincere condolences are offered to Dr. Foerster’s family and friends. May he rest in peace.

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