Sim, Stephen Kah-Sun

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Sim, Stephen Kah-Sun

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Professor Stephen Kah-Sun Sim was born in Singapore on 15 June, 1917 where his extended family ran a wholesale fabric store. Four years later his immediate family, excluding his father, returned to China to their ancestral village of Hua-Mee, near Swatow (Shan-tou). His initial education was in the family’s school until 1930, with a year-and-a-half interruption – 1927-1929 – caused by a return to Singapore until his father’s early death. Then he went to a boarding school in Swatow for three years. Having completed “lower middle school” (Grade 9), he spent most of an academic year (1933-1934) at a school in Teo-Aan (Chao-An), from which he was sent home for going on strike and therefore lost his year. In September 1934 he was sent for further schooling to Shanghai where, he expanded on his aptitude for English and Mathematics. A year later he was sent to Hong Kong to attend Wah Yan College, an English-system school run by the Jesuits, to acquire a better proficiency in English and to avoid military training. (In 1940, ironically, he began taking military training with the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps as a member of its Field Ambulance.) In the three years there, he was subjected to the challenges of a traditional Western-style education, including religious knowledge. In the fall to 1938 he entered Hong Kong University as an engineering student but switched to medicine after his second year. He did not complete his degree due to the Japanese invasion in December 1941.

In April 1942 Professor Sim was allowed to leave Hong Kong and eventually ended up at the Hsiang-Ya Medical College at its temporary location in Kweiyang beyond Japanese control, where he resumed his studies from September 1942 to March 1943. He then joined the Friends Ambulance Unit run by the Quakers in Kunming in Yunan province. Interpreters were much in demand and, he signed on to work in the front-line areas along the China-Burma border. Shortly after, he resigned to work for the British Military Mission, a position that included negotiating and purchasing food supplies for irregular “soldiers” and British officers involved in covert jungle operations. In July 1945 he spent a week training for parachute jumping at Jessore in north eastern India and at war’s end was in Keng Tong in north eastern Burma. In December he returned to Hong Kong.

Beginning in January 1946, Professor Sim taught English-Chinese translations at a girl’s school in Kowloon and was assistant editor of the Sunday Examiner, a weekly English-language Catholic paper. He also began enquiring about pharmacy programs at American universities and the University of Toronto. In September he left for a pre-med program at the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington and in March, 1947 was admitted to the College of Pharmacy at the University of Washington in Seattle. He rented a room in a house close to campus and to make ends meet, worked part-time in a restaurant and a pharmacy.

In June 1949 Professor Sim received his Bachelor of Pharmacy degree and immediately entered graduate school. He completed his Master’s degree in June 1951 and his PhD in August 1955. He received the E. L. Newcombe Award for outstanding research in pharmacognosy. During the academic year 1954-1955, he was an instructor in pharmacognosy at the College, teaching two half-year courses and one laboratory (third-year undergraduate) course.

Following graduation, he was hired as an “Instructor II” at the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of British Columbia, being promoted a year later to assistant professor before being .lured away to the University of Toronto in 1959. There he was promoted to associate professor in 1965 and full professor in 1979. At the University of Toronto, in addition to his teaching load, he took on numerous administrative duties. He was co-ordinator of the Faculty of Pharmacy time tables from 1970 until his retirement, and interviewed and processed OSAP appeals from Pharmacy students from 1970 to 1980. He chaired the faculty’s Library Committee from 1974 to 1982 and worked with the Presidential Advisory Committee on the U of T Library System during much of that time. He served as faculty liaison for the hospital pharmacy residency program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton from 1974 until his retirement.

Professor Sim taught pharmacognosy at the University of Toronto until the Faculty abandoned courses in naturopathic studies; then he taught medicinal chemistry and toxicology. He was an appraiser for one MScPhm thesis (1973), a member of the final oral examination committee for two MScPhm candidates in 1977, and was asked to review several other theses over time. He retired in 1985.

Professor Sim was particularly interested in the origin, structure and chemistry of drugs and their impact on humans. His research focussed on the biochemical aspects of medicinal substances from plants and micro-organisms and on the metabolism of ergot fungus. He is best known for his writings on the latter and on medicinal plant alkaloids which he had first studied as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. In 1966 he took a four-week training course in the use of radioisotopes in basic research at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies in Tennessee.

Professor Sim belonged to a number of professional and scientific associations, including the Canadian and American Pharmaceutical Associations, American Society of Pharmacognosy, Canadian Society of Plant Physiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society of North America, and the New York Academy of Sciences.

In 1957 Professor Sim married Lillian T. Mar, BSN, and they had two children. He died at his home in Scarborough, Ontario on September 6, 2002.


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  • The information for this biographical sketch is drawn primarily from Professor Sim’s memoir, Biographical Notes, which covers his years before coming to Canada, and from his curriculum vitae, 1976-1981. See B2009-0017/001(01)-(02).

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