Dr. Rudy Gittens, a distinguished medical practitioner who was associated with Canadian professional soccer and football teams for many years, has passed away.
The 80-year-old succumbed to a heart attack at his Ottawa home last week just days after undergoing heart surgery.
Leaving Trinidad & Tobago at age 21 in 1953 to study in Saskatchewan, he was a team doctor with Canadian national soccer teams for 23 years up until 2007. He was with the men’s side that won the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) championships in 1985 and 2000 and the teams that took part in the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) Confederation Cup in Korea and Japan in 2001.
An honoured member of the CONCACAF Hall of Fame, Gittens served on several sports medical committees, including three successive FIFA World Cups (1998 in France, 2002 in Korea and Japan and 2008 in Germany), the 1996 Olympic tournament and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States 14 years ago. He was also the FIFA Under-20 World Cup Canada 2007 general medical officer.
Inducted into Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame in the builders’ category and the CONCACAF Hall of Fame in 2007, Gittens was made a life member of the Canadian Soccer Association last year. He was also awarded the Aubrey Sanford Meritorious Award in 1999 and the President’s Award seven years later.
Former national defender Jason de Vos was among hundreds of national soccer players that Gittens treated for an assortment of injuries.
“Over time, the memory of specific games I played in and injuries that I had tend to get a little fuzzy,” he said. “So I don’t remember the game, nor do I remember the injury. But I do remember Dr. Rudy Gittens…His personality drew you in and once you were in his company, you wanted to stay there. He was warm, kind, light-hearted, and he made you feel like you mattered. It was what made him an excellent doctor, but also what made him an exceptional human being.”
Gittens, the brother-in-law of late lawyer and civil rights activist Charles Roach, attended Belmont Intermediate School on a scholarship and St. Mary’s College where he excelled in academics and sports, including cricket and soccer before coming to Canada where he secured pharmaceutical and medical degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and a fellow in orthopaedics from the University of Ottawa.
But for a brief six-week period when he returned to T & T to work as a drug analyst in the early 1960s, Gittens and his Barbadian-born wife, Betty Hope-Gittens, lived in Ottawa since 1959. They met in T & T where she was vacationing a year earlier and they were married two months after she won the Barbados Carnival Queen pageant in 1959. Her prize for winning the contest was a trip to Canada.
Gittens was also the team doctor for the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League and Ottawa 67s major junior “A” hockey, a clinical assistant professor with the University of Ottawa’s department of surgery and an orthopaedics lecturer at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados.
“He was dedicated to his vocation, he had great integrity and he was very fun loving,” said his sister, Margaret Gittens, who lives in Toronto. “When Rudy walked into a room, almost everyone would smile before he said a word. The first thing that would come out of his mouth was a joke. In fact, he would call me late at night at home just to share a joke. He also loved languages which proved helpful in his travels around the world with Canadian soccer teams.”
In addition to his wife, Gittens – a long time Canadian Academy of Sport & Exercise Medicine member – is survived by their children Simon and Garth.
His body will be cremated and a celebration of his life will take place on October 12 at Parkdale United Church, 429 Parkdale Ave. in Ottawa. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to The Eldercare Foundation of Ottawa (www.eldercarefoundation.ca).