For his expertise in aviation medicine, he’s received many accolades, awards and military decorations during a distinguished professional career.
In 2007, Dr. Stephen Blizzard won the internationally acclaimed Forrest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award for his exceptional contributions to the safety of civil aviation as a physician and pilot by exercising excellent clinical judgment, logic and common sense in the medical evaluation of airmen.
He’s also the recipient of the Dr. Wilbur Franks award – the highest honour in Canadian aviation medicine – and a member of the exclusive International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine that limits its membership to 250 individuals worldwide.
Trinidad & Tobago-born Blizzard has also being honoured with Canadian and United Nations Peacekeeping Medals and a Harry Jerome award for Excellence in Health Science.
Blizzard is proud of these achievements. He however says the Distinguished National of Trinidad & Tobago in Canada Award he received last Saturday night is very special.
“This means a lot to me because it is the first time I have been bestowed with any kind of recognition from the land of my birth,” said 83-year-old Blizzard who was the first and only Black to simultaneously become a jet pilot and fight surgeon in the Canadian Armed Forces.
One of just four Black Canadian air force jet pilots, the Queen’s Royal College student and air scout left T & T at age 19 to pursue a government scholarship in veterinary medicine in Scotland. After graduating, he returned to the twin-island republic to work as a government veterinarian.
“After my first year back home, I knew I was not going to stay in that profession,” said Blizzard who, in 1975, presented the first paper on aviation medicine – The Aerial Transportation of Patients – in the Commonwealth Caribbean. “I had always wanted to be a medical doctor.”
Blizzard migrated to Canada in 1958 and spent a year on the faculty of the Ontario Veterinary College as a graduate assistant in the Department of Surgery before enrolling in medical school at the University of Western Ontario. He also registered in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training program that subsidized his studies.
Graduating as a medical doctor in 1963, Blizzard served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and obtained his wings on the P 33 Silver Star in December 1968. He spent a few months at the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine in Toronto as deputy commander of the Central Aircrew Medical Board before answering a call in 1969 to return to the twin-island republic to pioneer aviation medicine.
“The People’s National Movement party was in power at the time and the late Dr. Eric Williams (T & T’s first PM) sent a medical team here to recruit professionals,” recalled Blizzard, a former president of the Canadian Society of Aerospace Medicine, the International Aerospace Medical Association and the Civil Aviation Medical Association. “The then Minister of Health’s – who was the leader of the delegation – exact words to me were, ‘Come back, we need you’. I will never forget that.”
Blizzard spent six years in T & T working as a medical practitioner, pilot medical examiner, flying instructor and a member of the Air Transport Licensing Authority before returning to Canada.
“My time back home was not a pleasant experience and it’s not something I want to elaborate on,” he said. “I however don’t regret going back to serve my country. If I hadn’t, I would have always felt I should have gone back and done something there.”
Blizzard picked up where he left off with the Canadian Forces, serving as Squadron Leader, Major and Deputy Commanding Officer with the National Defence Medical Detachment.
After retirement from the Canadian Forces in 1983, he was a senior consultant for safety and human factors, Chief of the Department of Civil Aviation medical unit for 12 years and a Transport Canada marine medicine senior consultant. He also visited the Soviet Union with a group of American aviation medical specialists in 1990.
A College of Physicians and Surgeons Doctor Emeritus, Blizzard and his wife Merle reside in Nepean.