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Pages from the past

Josephine (Ferguson) Timmerman, BA’84, recently uncovered the handwritten valedictorian speech her great-grandfather Dr. Robert Ferguson, MD 1890, delivered to his graduating medical school class more than 125 years ago.

Dr. Robert Ferguson, MD 1890
Dr. Robert Ferguson, MD 1890

Born July 5, 1855, Dr. Robert Ferguson was the son of Alexander and Elizabeth McLachlen Ferguson. He attended Owen Sound High School and Queen’s University. He trained as a Presbyterian minister, but found that type of work was not his calling. He began teaching in Owen Sound, Woodstock and, later, London, where he began taking courses in medicine. He graduated with an MD from Western in 1890.

In 1896, he joined Western’s Department of Therapeutics. He completed postgraduate work at Western Reserve University and New York Postgraduate School and returned to Western to focus his instruction in gynecology and obstetrics. In 1920, he was promoted to Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He died in 1927.

The eloquent, hand-written speech is a tribute to the soaring oration of the era. It is in near-perfect condition thanks to generations of family care. The 35-year-old Ferguson wrote, in part:

“Tonight we break the bonds that have united us for the past years. We have breathed the same atmosphere, striven manfully in the ranks, thought the same thoughts, gone in and out together, shared one another’s laughter and one another’s burdens – but here our paths diverge. … Whatever the future may have in store for us, let us act our part consistently with the dignity and honour of our profession, as well as the claims of common humanity.”

To read the full text, visit

Timmerman’s roots run deep at Western. Along with her paternal great-grandfather, both her father, Dr. Robert Ferguson, MD’31, Pages from the past and paternal grandfather, Dr. John Irwin Ferguson, MD 1900, graduated from the university’s medical school.

On her mother’s side, her great-grandfather, the Rev. J.W.P. Smith, served as Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and Chaplain to Bishop Isaac Hellmuth. In the early 1870s, Smith assisted Hellmuth in raising money for a new university and even gave $500 personally to the fund.

When Western opened its doors in 1878, Smith became Secretary of the Senate and Registrar. He was Bursar of Huron College from 1894 until his death in 1914.

Read the full text.

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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