Distinguished Former McGill Rugby Player is the Living Embodiment of ‘Made by McGill’

Photo by Neil Stephenson, featuring himself (right) with Owen Cumming (left), the inaugural Dr. Joe Hanaway Award winner

(Editor’s Note: Mr. Stephenson is the creator and co-funder of the Dr. Joseph Hanaway McGill Rugby Gentleman’s Award. He is a Toronto lawyer and a McGill Rugby alum. He graduated from McGill with an Honours B.A. in Political Science in 1984.)

Winston Churchill once famously observed that “rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”

It is this pithy observation by the British wartime leader that inspired the creation of the Dr. Joseph Hanaway McGill Rugby Gentleman’s Award, which will “recognize and honour gentlemanly conduct and exemplary behaviour which has been consistently exhibited by a McGill rugby player on and off the field over the course of a minimum of two seasons.”

Modelled on the NHL’s famed Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, the newly minted laurel was proposed to McGill Athletics in late 2020 as a way of formally recognizing gentlemanly behaviour both on and off the field—a character trait that is especially valued in rugby culture across the world, and to which Churchill was referring in his social commentary. No one better embodies these values and personifies the true meaning of being “Made by McGill” than Dr. Joseph Hanaway.

The newly minted laurel was proposed to McGill Athletics in late 2020 as a way of formally recognizing gentlemanly behaviour both on and off the field

Dr. Hanaway arrived at McGill as an undergrad from New York in 1953 and immediately joined the McGill football team where, as the team’s kicker, he quickly became known as “Joe the Toe.” After two years, he decided to switch to rugby where he again became the team’s designated kicker, and his team went on to become the Dominion National Rugby Champions of Canada in 1955—his rookie year as a rugby player. He subsequently enrolled in medical school at McGill, graduating with his MDCM in 1960, thereafter enjoying a distinguished career as a physician, professor, author, philanthropist, and volunteer.

Soon after training as a neurologist at McGill and Harvard University, he volunteered to be a sideline physician for a high school football team in St. Louis and served in this role for 31 years, traveling all over the state of Missouri each fall. Recognizing the increasing problem of head injury in high school football, he instituted the first head injury program in Missouri in 1997.

Dr. Hanaway has also held academic positions teaching neuroanatomy at elite medical schools, including the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the Harvard Medical School. He has also volunteered his time and talents with various professional medical associations over the course of his decades-long career, and co-wrote authoritative books on the history of the McGill Faculty of Medicine and the Montreal General Hospital.

David Johnston, McGill’s former Principal and Vice Chancellor, and Canada’s former Governor General, elaborated with his insights. “Joe Hanaway is an alumnus who any University would cherish. As just one example, I would start with the two-volume history of medicine at McGill which he and then Dean Richard Cruess published several decades ago. This was a labour of love that they completed “part time” while occupied in their demanding full time professional jobs. And they brought the magic of McGill alive to inspire others and to illustrate what an extraordinary contribution McGill has made to the advancement of medical science and people’s health through its remarkable history.”

Dr. Hanaway’s contributions to McGill are not limited to the medical field. Upon fully retiring in 2008, he organized an ambitious project that he had contemplated undertaking since his first student days at McGill in 1953. The project was to restore the Roddick Gates clocks and bell tower. The Roddick Gates were opened in 1925 with great fanfare and have served as the “front door and gateway” to McGill University ever since. By 1930, however, the clock mechanisms had failed due to an environmental assault of wind, rain, snow, and dust, and made them inoperable.

By 2010, Dr. Hanaway and his fellow volunteers were able to completely renovate the clock and bell mechanisms with satellite and computer technology. For the first time since 1930, the clocks told the correct time, and the bells started to ring again every day from 7am to 7pm. The restored clocks were the subject of several media stories across Canada including in the Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail.

Dr. Hanaway remarked, “I am proud to be a McGill Rugby alumnus and a regular financial supporter of the team through ‘McGill 24.’ I am delighted to see all the excellent work of our McGill ruggers in recent years—both on and off the field. My time on the McGill rugby team, although short, was very influential and affected my life and career. It was on this team that I learned about sportsmanship, teamwork, friendship, loyalty, discipline, respect for opponents, how to win and lose graciously, and how to take criticism from coaches and peers. When Neil approached me in 2020 to ask if I would be agreeable to having this award named after me, I was honoured.”

In its storied 150-year history, the McGill University Rugby Football Club has always placed great importance on how its members conduct themselves on campus and in the community. This is a part of the team’s culture and heritage that is constantly drilled into the players by the coaching staff.

The first Hanaway Award was handed out to great anticipation at the end of last season in December 2021. Owen Cumming, the MURFC Co-President and starting scrum-half of the varsity team, was named as the new award’s inaugural recipient. Cumming was also the 2021 winner of the prestigious Jean Beliveau Scholarship for excellence in academics, athletics, and community service.”

The long-term plan is to convert the award into a fully-endowed Athletic Financial Award within a few years, with the recipient receiving a cash prize in addition to the distinction of being officially recognized as a quintessential “rugby gentleman.”

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