Dr Albert Henry Phelps


Al (as he was affectionately known to family and friends) died of metastatic prostate cancer after a few months of loving care from his wife, Linda, family physicians, consultants, home care and hospice support, and was able to stay in his home until the end. He had successfully survived cecal carcinoma of a few years previously. He maintained his mental capabilities until a day or so before he died, and visitors were welcomed graciously and gratefully into a home where peace and tranquility were evident.

Al was born in Toronto—one of six children—and experienced the difficult years of the Depression. His father was a milk salesman and not in good health, and Al had to get up early to help his father with the milk route when he could. He was unable to complete his high school education as he had to go to work to help support the family. He took the route of a vocational training. 

He graduated from the Toronto Western Technical School in machine drafting and in 1937 became an apprentice in the tool and dye trade where he remained until 1941. During his apprenticeship years he attended night school to upgrade his education, and in 1942 he combined his junior and senior matriculation exams on the same day that he wrote university entrance exams. 

He was successful in being admitted to the University of Toronto Medical Faculty in 1942 and graduated in 1947. Following one year of internship in Toronto, he went west to enter general practice in Youbou, Vancouver Island, where he stayed for 2 years.

In 1950 he entered a UBC surgical residency training program at the Vancouver General Hospital, which he completed in 1954, then entered his general surgical practice in Chilliwack, where he remained until his retirement in 1989.

Al was the first general surgeon to practise in Chilliwack. He was part of a now-disappearing generation of surgeons who practised before and after the introduction of medicare. Prior to his arrival, surgical care was provided by general practitioners and itinerant surgeons who would come up from the city for emergency or previously arranged elective surgery. Al therefore provided a much needed service and rarely had any time off for the first eight years he was in Chilliwack, until the arrival of a second general surgeon, Dr Henry Pauls, who provided a welcome relief.

Al’s patients were his primary concern. He was considerate, kind, warm, and a concerned master surgeon who worked long hours and was highly regarded by his colleagues. He was gentle in disposition, quiet and unassuming in manner, wise in counsel, and tireless in devotion to duty. He achieved an improvement in patient care in Chilliwack.

His memberships in professional associations were many: fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, fellow of the American College of Surgeons, member of the American College of Surgeons Provincial Advisory Committee, president of Surgical Section of BC Medical Association, Member of BC Surgical Society (he was chairman for two years), member of the Executive of the BCMA for 15 years, and chairman of the Reference Committee of BCMA for three years. 

In 1988 he was awarded an honorary senior membership in the Canadian Medical Association. In other professional activities he was twice president of the Chilliwack Medical Society, president of the Upper Fraser Valley Medical Society, chief of staff at the Chilliwack General Hospital, and District 7 representative to the Board of Directors of the BCMA for 15 years.

In community affairs he was a member of the Chilliwack Rotary Club since 1960 and President in 1964 and awarded as a Paul Harris Fellow by his club. He had a special interest in the work of his club in the Student Exchange Committee and he and Linda hosted 15 students over many years and kept in touch with them after they returned home, with some returning later for further visits. 

He had a lifelong commitment as an elder in the Community of Christ Church, where he was local pastor from 1990–95. He was a founding member of the Chilliwack Golf and Country Club (high handicap) and a life member of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

In his leisure time he fitted in bowling, golfing, photography, cross-country skiing (in his younger days), woodworking, and gardening. Al and Linda’s garden was so beautiful that it was part of a community Rotary Garden Tour. For many years they also hosted a Christmas party for Chilliwack Hospital medical staff with sumptuous food, joyous carol singing, and the warmest of hospitality. They traveled extensively in Al’s retirement years.

Albert and his first wife, Mary, had two daughters and a son—Susan in Ottawa, Barbara in Tsawwassen, and Stuart in Revelstoke—and with his second wife, Linda, he had one son, Christopher, in Langley, and six grandchildren. A great joy for Al in 2006 was taking the whole family on an Alaska cruise.

Albert was short in stature, but a giant in living, and his imprint on his profession and community will long be remembered.

—Archie Young, MD
—Henry Pauls, MD

Archie Young, MDCM,, Henry Pauls, MD,. Dr Albert Henry Phelps. BCMJ, Vol. 50, No. 2, March, 2008, Page(s) 68 - Obituaries.

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Peter and Wendy... says: reply

Waxing nostalgic here in retirement. Peter 3 years retired from Anaesthesia. Remembering the “good old days” in Chilliwack. With sadness read the BCMJ obit written by Archie Young and Henry Pauls for Al Phelps. Remember you well, Linda. Hope you are well and happy. We see Barry and Sue Flynn from time to time, but would love to reconnect with any of the old Chilliwack gang. Living in Vancouver, big family home near Jericho Beach. We’d welcome visits from the past. Wendy and Peter McGinn

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