Department of Surgery dinner in honour of Dr. James T. Rutka, and calls for donations to the “James T. Rutka Fund for Surgical Research and Innovation”

On the evening of Thursday, October 13th , a group of University of Toronto faculty, staff and supporters gathered at the UofT Faculty Club to honour and celebrate the legacy of Dr. James T. Rutka, and to announce the newly established “James T. Rutka Fund for Surgical Research and Innovation”.

Mari Rutka, Jim’s wife and partner of more than 40 years, whom he called his “moral compass” during his farewell speech, was also present to help celebrate this special occasion.

Dr. Rutka held the post of RS McLaughlin Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto between 2011 and 2022. The department gained exponentially in repute and advancement during his tenure.

During the event, several speakers acknowledged Dr. Rutka as an extraordinary leader and mentor, who worked and served with outstanding creativity, dedication, and empathy.

After acknowledging the land on which UofT stands, and thanking all the staff, colleagues, and former chairs of the department for participating in the evening, Dr. Carol J. Swallow, current RS McLaughlin Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery, welcomed attendees and kicked off the evening, thanking Dr. Rutka for his support and commending his leadership skills and professionalism.

Dr. Swallow introduced Dr. Trevor Young, Dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Vice Provost of Relations with Health Care Institutions, who spoke about how Dr. Rutka’s leadership helped UofT Surgery become the 3rd ranked department of surgery worldwide, with double the research funding and more than a thousand high-calibre articles published on an annual basis.

Dean Young described Dr. Rutka as a global citizen; “not only expressing values but living them and getting universal regard for that”.

Dr. Ori Rotstein, Associate Chair of Surgery and VP of Research and Innovation, Unity Health Toronto, described Dr. Rutka as a “surgeon-scientist extraordinaire” who excelled in every aspect of all the different roles he held.

Mr. James Temerty was given the floor next, sharing with the audience his memories of Dr. Rutka during their visits to hospitals in Ukraine, and recollecting anecdotes, through which he said he was able to “see Jim the humanitarian and the empath”. Mr. Temerty said that his family is grateful for Dr. Rutka for being the scientific advisor for their long-term strategic plan.

Dr. Peter Dirks talked about how he met Dr. Rutka back in 1988 when he was a neurosurgery resident and how upon talking with him, he thought to himself “this is someone who knows what he’s talking about”. Dirks saw Dr. Rutka as influential and inspirational at all stages of his career and appreciated that Dr. Rutka was part of that academic journey, as a true mentor, the entire time.

Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, Chair of the Division of Neurosurgery, then addressed Dr. Rutka, thanking him and reminding him of how he was one of the factors behind her choosing neurosurgery as a specialty. She described Rutka as a “superhero”, with “superhero characteristics”, including having a positive mindset, integrity, empathy, a supportive attitude, extraordinary drive, and benevolence.

The Department of Surgery’s Business Manager, Nancy Condo, then presented a painting to Jim and Mari Rutka on behalf of the Department of Surgery as a token of appreciation and gratitude. The painting is by artist Douglas Edwards, who is a personal friend of Dr. Rutka and who has known him since they were 9 years old. The painting depicts a scene as viewed from Jim and Mari’s cottage in Killarney.

After receiving the gift, Dr. Rutka addressed the attendees, thanking the Department of Surgery and acknowledging all his colleagues, staff and friends, name by name. He thanked his wife, Mari, and spoke about how touched and honored they both were for this recognition. He ended by wishing Dr. Swallow all the best, letting her know that as he takes a few steps back, he will admire her leadership, and cheer for her.

The event’s closing remarks were by Dr. Rotstein, who announced the newly founded James T. Rutka Fund for Surgical Research and Innovation: an initiative that is very well aligned with the department’s future plans for leadership through innovation, and that will help support the Department of Surgery’s strategic initiatives in the fields of research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

On that note, the evening ended with smiles, handshakes, memorable anecdotes, and cheers for Dr. Rutka for all his contributions to the Department of Surgery and for his next chapter in life.