Development & Alumni Relations Office 

John P Savage (died May 2003)

(Among a number of obituaries we received for Dr Savage, was the following from his former classmate Brian Lowry MB 1956)

John Savage died just a few days short of his 71st birthday in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. His undergraduate career at Queen's was distinguished by being President of the Student?s Representative Council and also earning a Rugby Blue.

He immigrated to Canada in 1966 and embarked on a career of Family Practice and later Politics. In Family Medicine he was more than just a Doctor treating patients because he widened his horizons into a considerable number of organizations often being the initiator of new programs, for example, establishing a free clinic in a disadvantaged black community area near Halifax. He worked closely with commissions and organizations dealing with alcohol and drug dependency and established the first mainland Nova Scotia Detox Center in Halifax, as well as an evening program for families of drug dependent people. He travelled abroad to help bring medical aid to countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador and latterly in Niger, West Africa as well as in Gambia.

John Savage was always very heavily involved in community work in providing recreational facilities, medical facilities, educational programs to name just a few. He was elected to the Dartmouth School Board after he could not persuade educators to teach sex education in the school and eventually became Chairman of the School Board, where he was closely involved in developing such a comprehensive program and also in a daily physical exercise program in Dartmouth Schools, which was later adopted by the Province of Nova Scotia.

After his School Board Chairmanship, he became Mayor of Dartmouth and was re-elected on two occasions. From there he went into Provincial Politics and became Leader of the Provincial Liberal Party and subsequently Premier of Nova Scotia in 1993. Although he was clearly a Liberal and a champion of social programs he found that the previous Conservative Government in Nova Scotia had left a considerable deficit and to quote one newspaper report "faced with a spiralling deficit Dr. Savage morphed quickly from socialist spend thrift to fiscal conservative".

When he took office, Nova Scotia had a budget deficit of $617 million, the worst in its history and interest payments on the 8 billion dollar provincial debt were 1 billion dollars a year. The health care system was struggling and the legislature had not held a sitting in 15 months. Government was riven with patronage. John Savage changed things rapidly. He reformed the health system to put more stress on preventive medicine and less on high cost hospital care. He amalgamated municipal governments to make them cheaper and more effective. He brought in a law requiring the legislature to sit twice a year. He made government purchasing fairer and less political and he cut spending so sharply that close to the end of his time as Premier the province brought its first fully balanced budget in 25 years.

More importantly he stopped the practice of packing government departments with friends of the governing parties. The Globe & Mail (Canada's most prominent English speaking newspaper) had an outstanding editorial on him in 1997 and I quote "Congratulations, construction union thugs. Well done, party hacks. Nice job, government trough-feeders. Hats off, in fact, to all those who would like to see Nova Scotia keep on going in the same cozy, corrupt way it used to. You have won a glorious victory. This week, you got rid of the best premier your province has had in a generation. Thanks to you, a good man is gone. The old Nova Scotia lives".


In his lifetime, John received many awards for his medical and community work. These included the YMCA Peace Medal in 1987, the Environmental Award from the Wildlife Association of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Red Cross Humanitarian Award, the Queen's Jubilee Medal of Nova Scotia, the Order of Nova Scotia Medal, an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from St. Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, a Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Rotary International and just before he died the Order of Canada as well as an Honorary Doctor of Laws from his Alma Mater.

Those of us who were among his classmates at Queen's remember him as being "a right decent man" who was prepared to speak his mind but also was quite open minded about other person's opinions. Clearly, he had a very strong social conscience from an early age which became more prominent as he entered community life in Nova Scotia.

In this he was strongly helped by his wife, Margaret (nee McCartan), whom he met at Queen's and their seven children. Sadly, Margaret predeceased him by only a few months. For most people in Ulster, they probably had no idea of the tremendous impact that John Savage made not only on his community of Dartmouth, and the province of Nova Scotia, but also in the wider world in helping underprivileged people in many ways. The saddest thing is that in trying to be a completely honest politician the people could not take it but his example of a life well lived will be an inspiration not only to his children but to many in his community

 

 

 

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