Dr. John Doehn Stubbs
December 18,1932-June 7, 1994
Dr. John Stubbs is almost always linked to a landmark law that has come to be known as the Stubbs Bill. The Stubbs Bill abolished an earlier law that made it a crime for homosexuals to have sex in the privacy of their home. Stubbs piloted the bill through its rocky passage through Parliament in 1994.
His success at getting the controversial bill passed capped a political career that began in 1965 when he helped to get the fledgling United Bermuda Party off the ground. He was the UBP’s first chairman and was one of 40 parliamentarians who were members of the so-called “Class of 1968” after they won seats in Parliament in the historic May 22,1968 election.
Stubbs was respected by politicians of all stripes for his intellect, his energy and his vision for racial harmony, and for the role he played in helping to shape the future of Bermuda during its evolution into a modern society after centuries of racial inequality and undemocratic government. As far back as 1976, he came out in favour of independence for Bermuda, saying “it would help us wipe away the cobwebs of our racially separatist past”.
His interest in medical matters extended beyond the operating room and brought him to the attention of leaders outside of Bermuda, among them U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Stubbs is also credited with introducing laparoscopy surgery to the island.
The son of Josiah Alpheus Stubbs and his American wife, Helen Haker Doehn, Stubbs was born and raised in Shelly Bay, the second of three children. He attended Whitney Institute and Saltus Grammar School.
In 1949, he won a Bermuda Government Scholarship to attend McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees at McGill, the latter in 1956.
In 1957, he won the Rhodes scholarship for Bermuda and entered Oxford University in England, where he did additional studies in research and neurosurgery. In 1960, he returned to McGill to begin training to become a surgeon. He returned to Bermuda in 1965 where he established his surgical practice and became part of a new generation of Bermudian surgeons.
Stubbs’ interest in politics began during his student days in Montreal. He joined the UBP on his return home and became part of the inner circle that planned party strategy. He was a member of the UBP delegation to the 1966 Constitutional Conference in London that laid the groundwork for Bermuda’s new Constitution and the two-party system. Two years later, in the May 22 election that started the UBP on its 30-year course as Bermuda’s ruling party, he and running mate Gloria McPhee won seats in Hamilton West.
In 1971, Stubbs took a sabbatical from politics and medicine to take a master’s degree in management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During his year at MIT, he served as a temporary consultant to U.S Senator Edward Kennedy’s Senate sub-committee on heath. Five years later, he led a team of doctors to Afghanistan to assist the government with the reorganisation of its health care system.
Stubbs continued to practice surgery during his years in Parliament and was actively involved in the medical establishment. In 1971, he was a member of a team of four surgeons that performed the first hip replacement operation at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH).
He was head of the medical staff in 1973 when KEMH received full accreditation from the Canadian Council on Hospital Accreditation for the first time. He became a pioneer in the organ transplant field when he harvested kidneys from a patient who had just died and had them flown overseas for transplant. It laid the groundwork for a partnership with Boston hospitals that put Bermudians in line to receive life-saving organ transplants.
In 1976, Stubbs lost his seat in Parliament and was subsequently appointed to the Upper House. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1980, representing Paget East. Earlier that year, Stubbs was promoted to Cabinet, serving as Planning, Housing and Environment Minister under Premier David Gibbons.
In 1983, as Bermuda entered the computer age, Premier John Swan transferred him to a new ministryIndustry and Technology. Stubbs resigned in 1984 because of the pressure of running his surgical practice, although his appointment as chair of the Board of Telecommunications allowed him to continue to have an input in policies affecting the new ministry.
By the late 1980s, he was boning up his medical skills by taking a course in laparoscopic surgery in Germany. A German surgeon and expert in the field later joined his practice.
In January 1993, after a night of severe back pain, he was admitted to KEMH, where he was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer. After surgery and radiation at a Boston hospital, he returned to Bermuda in time to take part in the budget debate in the House in February.
By December 1993, he was inspired to lead a campaign to change the island’s homosexuality laws after having to listen to a gay-bashing sermon at a funeral. By May the following year, he had marshalled his forces and brought a Private Member’s Bill to the House. It meant MPs were free to vote according to their conscience and did not have to toe the party line. On May 13, 1994, despite strong opposition from religious groups, Parliament approved it by a vote of 22 to 17. A month after that victory, Stubbs lost his battle with cancer.
Source: The Renaissance ManThe Life and Times of Dr. John Stubbs Compiled by Robin Stubbs, Andrew Bermingham and Barbara Fullerton.
© 2008 Bermuda Biographies