A Story from The Neuro’s Early Days

At 15, a concussion threatened John Robert Hall's future, but thanks to Dr. Wilder Penfield at The Neuro, he not only recovered but went on to lead a successful career, forever grateful.

At 90 years old, John Robert Hall is quick-talking, intelligent, and full of character. The highly successful entrepreneur and McGill graduate (BEng ’58), retired from his galvanized steel company, Corbec, in 2012. Hall shared with us a story about The Neuro from his teenage years.  

In 1948 when he was 15 years old, Hall was the high school quarterback at St. Leo’s Academy (now École Saint-Léon) on Clarke Avenue in Westmount. During a game against a rival school, Hall was accidentally kicked in the head during a scuffle and his helmet knocked off. The next thing he remembers is being on the sidelines and the coach pointing to the grass, asking him to say what it was called. He stared at the grass, unable to remember the word for it, unable even to reply.  

Hall was severely concussed. He was, in his words “loony as a fruitcake!”. He remembers overhearing people expressing concern about his behaviour. He heard his mother crying and asking someone if he would ever be the same. Hall understood that something was terribly wrong. He began to wonder if he would be like this for the rest of his life.  

But then, Hall was brought to The Neuro, where he was assessed by a friendly, grey-haired doctor. “I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it’s because I was concussed,” says Hall, laughing. “But I swear, this doctor had a halo. He seemed to have an aura around him. He conveyed such goodness and wholesomeness.” The doctor told him that, although he was seriously injured, he was going to make a full recovery.   

And Hall did recover. Every day, the grey-haired doctor would come to see him, lean against the doorframe and say, “And how are you today, young man?”. The day he was discharged, Hall asked a nurse for the name of the grey-haired doctor.  

“Don’t you know who that is?”, she said. “That’s Dr. Wilder Penfield. He’s the most famous neurologist [sic] in the world.” 

john hall

The experience left a remarkable impression on Hall. “All my life, I have never forgotten what Dr. Penfield did for me. The injury I suffered called my whole future into question- what if I hadn’t come to The Neuro?” he says. “I went on to graduate from McGill with honours in engineering. I started my own company and had a very successful career. Every step along the way, all of my successes, I have been grateful for the treatment I received at The Neuro that allowed me to have the life that I’ve had.” 

Dr. Wilder Graves Penfield was one of Canada's foremost neurosurgeons and founder of The Neuro. Two deep passions marked his life. The first was a desire to understand the cause of brain illnesses, and the other was a devotion to family; both his immediate family, and members of his extended professional family from around the world, including his colleagues from The Neuro. 




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The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) is a bilingual academic healthcare institution. We are a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high-quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.



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