Dr David Klassen 1925–2008

On 3 September 2008 Dr David Klassen died after a 2-year struggle with progressive heart failure and its varied complications following cardiac surgery.

As Shakespeare said, “the play is played, the players now go forth.” Few players as colorful as David Klassen have left the surgical stage. He was a rugged individualist, sprung from solid Mennonite stock. He was the second of 11 children, born in Craig­myle, Alberta, to David G. Klassen and Mary (Peters) Klassen. His father had been a teacher in Russia and was fortunate to be able to immigrate to Canada from the repressive Russian regime, starting a new life in Canada as a farmer. Despite his parents’ struggle for survival during their early years in Canada, Dave and his siblings all found a way to gain an education and go on to success in varied professions. His younger brother, Bernie, has spent his professional years as a general medical practitioner in Chilliwack.

Dave earned his MD from the University of Alberta in 1949, in­terned 1 year at the University Hospital in Edmonton, then entered general practice in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, with Dr Verne Krause for a year, returning for a surgical residency at the Edmonton General for another year. He married the love of his life, Marjorie Kruk, during that year and then went into general practice in Vancouver with the late Dr Pat Doyle. In 1953 Dave moved to Chilliwack where he had his own general practice for 9 years. He then decided to specialize in otorhinolaryngology and moved with his six children to Pittsburgh, completing his residency and earning his FRCS in 1965. He then returned to Chilliwack where he practised full time until 1994.

Dave loved the unorthodox and had a healthy indifference to the opinions of others. His humor was one of mischievous laughter at human foibles, sometimes directed at his peers with a withering remark. His contrite apology the following day was unfailing. His most vitriolic tirades were reserved for the machinations of petty bureaucrats. At such times he would strut around the room like a rooster with akathisia. He was blunt to his patients, but they loved him and thrived on it.

He enriched hospital life. Sparks flew when he was around, and you couldn’t ignore him. Not that you would wish to, because he had an effortless ability to delight and entertain. In the doctors’ lounge at 7 a.m. he often provided warm, freshly baked bread to supplement his endless supply of jokes and anecdotes.

Age had little effect on his attributes and characteristics. The term “retired physician,” in his case, was an oxymoron. He continued to possess a restless energy with an enormous capacity for work. During his active and so-called retired years, he took his specialist skills to Bella Bella, Sechelt, Fraser Lake, and Guatemala, and when Coqualeetza Hospital (for Aboriginal patients with tuberculosis) was still open in Sardis, he did much reparative ear and throat surgery there. The affection with which he was held by the Chilliwack General Hospital operating room nurses was demonstrated by their surprise dinner to honor his 80th birthday.

Dave enjoyed his family, his work, and nature. His congenial side was at its best with his friends on the golf links, or skiing from his second home in Glacier, Washington, or hunting ducks or geese on the Prairies. “No man liveth to himself alone,” and in this he received a full measure of help from a remarkable woman, his wife, Marjorie. They understood each other. Dave deferred to her judgment and wise counsel and found her essential to his happiness. He leaves Marjorie, his six children—David, Donald, Mich­ael, Kathleen, Lauren, and Ju­dith—and grandchildren—Kenneth, Kristine, Mika, and Michael’s step-son, Jeremy.

His genuine, innate quality of candor was offset by a general personal kindness for which no trouble was too great. No one could have a friend with more enduring qualities.

—Henry Pauls, MD
—Archie Young, MDCM

Henry Pauls, MD,, Archie Young, MDCM,. Dr David Klassen 1925–2008. BCMJ, Vol. 51, No. 1, March, 2009, Page(s) 79 - Obituaries.

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