Airudin (“Airey” or “Jing”) Sulaiman Khan (1936 – 2023) died on June 10, 2023 in London, Ont., peacefully at home, after a second brave battle with cancer.
Airey was born in Trinidad, raised by his grandparents and his parents who were sugarcane farmers. He remembered the sound of rain on the tin roof above his head as he grew up. He was taught under the Commonwealth education system, excelled in academics, and earned a scholarship which brought him to Canada for university. He earned an M.D. from the University of Manitoba, enduring the harsh winters while keeping warm with food he cooked in a pressure cooker. During the summertime, he worked as a porter on the passenger trains across Canada and sent money home to his family in Trinidad.
His medical residencies took him to St. Louis, Missouri and Montreal for internal medicine and cardiology specializations before settling down in London, Ont., where he opened his private practice in 1970 and served in the Canadian Army as a medical officer in the rank of Captain. He maintained courtesy admitting privileges at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Victoria Hospital while holding a weekly clinic at the London Psychiatric Hospital, in later years at the Parkwood Institute, and he continued to provide regular house calls for his patients long after it was no longer standard practice.
Patients often reported that because he took the time to listen to them carefully, they knew he cared. His perseverance and thoroughness in care for his patients extended to his typically astute observations, while he maintained a strong adherence to the “net benefit” of treatments, continually problem-solving and always considering approaches which ranged from the extremely practical to the creative and unconventional. Airey was very hard-working and finally retired from practice at the young age of 85.
When not caring for his patients, Airey could be found gardening, taking candid photos of family, listening to the Hi-Fi, reading mystery stories, telling Trinidadian folk stories, playing with his children and grandchildren, watching operas, cooking up a storm in the kitchen, helping perform CPSO International Medical Graduate qualifying examinations, and executing medical research studies. If provisioning for others and giving (often unsolicited) yet well-intentioned advice were love languages, those would be Airey’s. He was known for his dry wit, even until the very end, suggesting that we should “save the Boost for [his attending physician],” while implying that he did not want to take the nutritional beverage for himself.
Airey lived a full life with integrity and impact far and wide, both in his work and at home. He sponsored multiple younger siblings to immigrate to Canada over the years and provided support for them as they started life in Canada. While his children take after him and travel and live around the world, he always looked forward to holidays and birthday celebrations when family would gather with him at home.
Airey is predeceased by his first wife, Martha (d. 1982), parents Sulaiman Khan and Aysha Khan, and siblings Ameerudin Khan and Halima “Pollen” James. Airey is survived by his wife of 40 years, Margot; his children Yanudin, Alimudin (Laurel), Selina (Ronnie), Safia (Colin), Mila (Aaron), and Adam (Vivien); and grandchildren Leoric and Kieran.
In accordance with his wishes, an Islamic funeral was held at the London Muslim Mosque on June 10, followed immediately by burial at the Forest Lawn Cemetery at 2001 Dundas St. in London, Ont.
In sharing his wisdom with others to comfort them in difficult times, Airey might have told you the story of the King and his servant, one of his most popular Trinidadian folk stories that he liked to recount to his immediate family. He would tell us not to worry, that everything happens for a reason, and through colourful tales of curious characters, deliver the message that in hindsight, what might have seemed disastrous at first could later be, through a twist of fate, “very very good” indeed.
Airey touched many lives, more than each one of us could ever know. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Médecins Sans Frontières. If you have a story or pictures to share, please add a comment to the website below the photos.