Feb 26, 2024

In Memory of Professor Willets McIntyre (Mac) Burnham

Faculty News
Professor Willets McIntyre (Mac) Burnham
By Ali Salahpour, Associate Professor and Chair

We are very saddened to announce that Professor W. McIntyre Burnham passed away on Tuesday February 20th, 2024.

Professor Mac Burnham B.A., Ph.D., was a neuropsychopharmacologist who was renowned for his work on epilepsy and seizures.

Dr. Burnham was born in Chicago (July 1, 1939). He completed an honours B.A. in Experimental Psychology at Cornell University (1962) and Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology at McGill University (1971), followed by post-doctoral training in Neurophysiology at the Montreal Neurological Institute (1971-1974).

Dr. Burnham joined the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto in 1974 as a lecturer and was appointed Assistant Professor in 1978. Among many leadership roles, Dr. Burnham was the director of the Bloorview Epilepsy Research Program (1992-2002), Director of the University Toronto Epilepsy Research Program (2004-2011) and Co-Director of EpLink - The Epilepsy Research Program of the Ontario Brain Institute (2011-2018). He was also the Undergraduate Coordinator (1987-1994) and Acting Chair of the Department of Pharmacology (2001).

Dr. Burnham made seminal contributions to the field of convulsive disorders/epilepsy and continuously pursued research on anticonvulsant drugs and potential therapies for epilepsy. He had over 250 scientific publications and mentored over 30 graduate and post-graduate trainees. In recent years his research work focused on ketogenic diet and cannabinoids as therapeutical approaches for treatments of epilepsy. In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Burnham was heavily engaged with patient organizations, patient advocacy groups and strived to find improved treatment for patients suffering from epilepsy.  Some of this work was done in his capacity as president of Epilepsy Canada (2011-2013) and Epilepsy Ontario (1995-1998, 2000-2009).

Dr. Burnham received many honours and awards during his career, including The Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal Government of Canada (2002), the Honorary Pioneer Award from Epilepsy Canada (2004) and the Ontario Volunteer Service Award Government of Ontario (2005). As a dedicated educator, Dr. Burnham was also recipient of the Sustained Excellence and Innovation in Life Sciences Education from the Faculty of Medicine of University of Toronto (2021).

Dr. Burnham inspired many thousands of students during his career. Dr. Burnham provided opportunities to learners of all academic abilities and backgrounds. He enjoyed teaching and interacting with students in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Dr. Burnham introduced many students to pharmacology through the introductory PCL360Y/PCL201H/BIO200H/JBC201H pharmacology courses. He also created a popular neuropsychopharmacology course (PCL475Y) in the 1980s and kept teaching and delivering this course until 2023, making this the longest running course in our department’s history and a testament to Dr. Burnham’s dedication to undergraduate education. In his honour, the W. Mac Burnham Award for outstanding achievement in a Pharmacology or Biomedical Toxicology Major program is awarded to students with the highest academic achievement in pharmacology courses.

For those who knew Dr. Burnham, he is remembered as a kind and generous colleague and friend as well as an exceptional educator and mentor to his colleagues, trainees and students.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his wife, Dr. Carole Burnham, and other loved ones at this difficult time. 

Obituary and Guestbook