Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Rhinehart F. Friesen (1914-2009)


Born at Gretna on 6 January 1914, son of Jacob L. and Maria Friesen, he graduated from the Mennonite Collegiate Institute at Gretna in 1930, then attended the Winnipeg Normal School from 1931 to 1932. He took his first job teaching elementary school in Winkler. While teaching there he boarded at the home of Dr. Cornelius Wiebe who inspired his career transition into medicine. Upon completion of his medical internship, he married Eira Charles on 11 February 1944. Soon after, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and was posted to Halifax and Debert, Nova Scotia, and Goose Bay, Labrador. Following the war he began a residency at Royal Victoria Hospital in Halifax. It was interrupted in 1946 when he contracted tuberculosis giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying patient. He spent a year at the Ninette Sanatorium.

Expected never to be strong enough to practice medicine but greatly respected by his professors, he was awarded the position of Medical Director of the Manitoba Cancer Relief and Research Institute. However, after six years and the birth of three of his four children, he restarted his career with a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Manitoba and was awarded his FRCS (C) in 1957. In 1964, in collaboration with Dr. Jack Bowman, he performed the first successful intrauterine transfusion saving babies threatened by Rh disease. He became an international expert in the technique and lectured extensively at conferences worldwide. Through the 1960s and 1970s he became a respected leader of the Manitoba medical community as a physician, teacher and innovator and as a favourite of medical staff and patients wherever he practiced. He received a Manitoba Good Citizenship Award in 1973.

Retirement in the 1980s allowed him time to write two books, Almost an Elephant and A Mennonite Odyssey, and a wide range of volunteer contributions to seniors’ retirement education, children’s love of reading and Mennonite history.

He died at Winnipeg on 6 February 2009


Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 9 February 2009.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 1 April 2016

Memorable Manitobans

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