Dr Norman Rigby was born in Manchester, the heart of England’s industrial north, but grew up in the beauty of New Forest, along England’s southwest coast.
Dr Norman Rigby was born in Manchester, the heart of England’s industrial north, but grew up in the beauty of New Forest, along England’s southwest coast. At 18, like all young men of his era, he found himself in the army doing 2 years of national service. At the conclusion of his basic training he was selected for a commission, an unusual honor for a 2-year national serviceman. He was the top cadet of his troop and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and then stationed in Germany for the remainder of his 2 years. The Regimental Officers Mess failed to convince him to sign on as a regular, and although he was tempted, he returned to England to attend London’s prestigious 400-year-old Guy’s Hospital Medical School.
In the 1950s London was a great place to be a medical student. Graduating in 1956 Dr Rigby remained as a house surgeon for 2 years and followed that by the great leap to a small town in the Saskatchewan prairies, where he was the only doctor for miles and the factotum for the community. Another leap of 2 years led him to the Lower Mainland, where he set up a practice in Port Coquitlam and obtained privileges at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH).
RCH was then the largest hospital outside of Vancouver, providing services not only to Burnaby, the Coquitlams, and Surrey, but also to trauma and serious case care to the Fraser Valley as far as Hope. In the 1960s patients flooded into New Westminster by small boats and light planes as trading posts up the coast had no available medical facilities. It was RCH, and in particular its emergency department, that provided the services for this vast area. Dr Rigby, now with a busy and expanding general practice and much needed surgical experience, soon found himself involved in running that emergency department. He also found himself training immigrant physicians, many from the UK, and many of those recently qualified who required a 6-month training period before taking the LMCC that was needed to obtain a College licence. There are still many physicians who remember being taught by Dr Rigby, and who remember him as a friendly kindred spirit who had lived the difficulties of emigration, with a wife and young children. Dr Rigby started them on the road to becoming Canadians by giving them the confidence they needed to know they could succeed.
He was one of RCH’s outstanding family physicians, serving a vast catchment area that was growing and starting to need more doctors. Realizing that RCH needed to look elsewhere for more physicians for its expanding emergency department, he convinced the administration to let him go to Toronto to seek recently qualified interns to come out west on a 12-month internship program—a program that he would develop and administer to meet their educational requirements and the hospital’s needs. Not only did Dr Rigby return with the residents, but a mutually acceptable program was awaiting them. He convinced hospital staff to welcome the interns, not only on their arrival but also throughout their year. Dr Rigby made that trip annually until the arrival of emergency room physicians in the mid 1970s. It is a comment on his success at RCH that most of the residents and immigrant physicians stayed on to work and raise their families in the Lower Mainland. With ER physicians in place, Dr Rigby, now the medical director, worked closely with hospital administration to develop plans for the building of a new RCH.
Dr Rigby was first and foremost a family physician and he was most proud of the successes he had as a family doctor. That is indeed how he would wish to be remembered.
—John O’Brien-Bell, MBBS, MRCS, DRCOG
Contributions to the then-BCMA
Dr Norman Rigby arrived at the then-BCMA in 1975 during a critical time. The membership was upset, and vigorous and smart staff leadership was needed. Dr Rigby delivered on all counts. A student of the battles of the Second World War, he was the ideal person to advise the president and Board in the power struggle that was raging internally between the establishment and the reform group.
But Dr Rigby brought much more to his role than strong, unwavering leadership. Under his confident and inspired helmsmanship, the association transformed into a united and successful negotiating force against the government. He produced two needed positives: more income for his employers, and a cooling off of the internal war.
Arguably, Dr Rigby’s most notable and lasting accomplishment was his early recognition of the need for a larger headquarters for the BCMA. He was the principal mover in the brilliant purchase of 1665 West Broadway. A most suitable legacy for Dr Rigby.
BCMA Communications Director, 1973–1993
Contributions to the Yukon Medical Association
From 1975 to 1986 Dr Rigby was the executive director of the then-BCMA, where among many achievements he facilitated the entry of the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) into the CMA.
Dr Rigby was a great friend and mentor to the fledgling YMA. Our members were long on enthusiasm but short on administrative skills, contacts, and resources, and Dr Rigby provided valuable assistance in all these areas. He promoted our participation in attending BCMA and CMA meetings, and offered affiliate status in the BCMA to YMA members so that we could access member benefits and services, with approval of the BCMA Board. He helped revise the BCMA Constitution and Bylaws, and then helped the Yukon government to write a new Medical Professions Act that included the establishment of the first Yukon Medical Council.
As soon as BC physicians were allowed to practise as professional corporations, Dr Rigby allowed the YMA to use the same legal language to establish the same opportunity north of 60.
He always provided sage advice, both about the association and on a personal level. He was awarded honorary membership in the YMA in recognition of his many contributions.
He will be missed.
—Allon Reddoch, MD
Marsh Lake, Yukon
Connections to India
I met Dr Norman Rigby in July 1970 when my wife and I arrived in New Westminster to start a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical biochemistry. Dr Rigby was director of medical education at the hospital. It was unique to have a fellowship of this type in a community hospital. Though the fellowship was in the Department of Pathology and was directed by Dr Ralph Spitzer, the foresight and support of the Medical Education Department was evident. In some ways my journey in medicine was influenced by the contribution and role Dr Rigby played in establishing the fellowship.
Very quickly I learned about his culinary talents, especially for Indian food. We never missed an invitation to the Rigby home where Norm would take great pride in his tandoori cooking, using a custom-ordered clay oven (1970s Vancouver was very limited in its ethnic food offerings, and there were few Indian restaurants). We enjoyed his culinary talents along with his passion for talking about his connections with India and his continued contacts with ex-Indian army staff. To a young man of 23, of Indian heritage, with a not-so-positive impression of British Raj, this experience was extraordinary. I developed a soft spot for learning about India from Dr Rigby’s reminiscences—history through the eyes of an Englishman.
Dr Rigby was passionate about whatever he undertook, including the building of a highly sought after first-class medical internship program at the Royal Columbian Hospital. This is evidenced by the number of trainees who stayed in the area and still serve the community with great commitment. He made a point of seeking medical graduates from out of the province to build a diverse and nontraditional group. The internship fostered strong team spirit and friendships among the trainees, and even though I was a postdoctoral candidate at the time, he encouraged me to engage with interns as a full member of the education team. That experience prompted me to go back to school to complete my medical training at the University of British Columbia.
Our relationship continued after Dr Rigby became the executive director at the then-BCMA. He asked me to join the association, even though I was only a second-year medical student, and thus began my journey.
Dr Rigby continued his bond with India and helped me to establish the Canadian Physicians with Interest in South Asia (PISA) in 1986 along with Drs Chuni Roy and Asoke Dutt. What I found most impressive was that he truly identified with India as one of its own, and was very keen to build strong links between Canadian and Indian medical practitioners. In this context, what stands out is his involvement with the Third World Congress on Law and Medicine in New Delhi in 1985 (BCMJ 1985;27:214-217). Back then India was not a popular medical meeting destination and only real Indiaphiles took the time and expense to attend these gatherings. What started out as token involvement from the BCMA became an all-encompassing engagement, and Dr Rigby gave every ounce of his energy and time to ensure its success.
That action created ripples in many places and Dr Rigby paid for it dearly. However, as a mark of the man, he had made a commitment and he stood by his promise of a successful conference with the Canadian flag flying high in New Delhi. Here again he demonstrated thinking that was ahead of the times—with a large Indian diaspora in British Columbia, and with India being a strong economic power today, those connections and the foundation that Dr Rigby laid will continue to serve the province well.
Dr Rigby will be remembered by his colleagues and friends fondly for his unique style and perspective on many issues. Rest in peace my friend.
—Arun Garg, MD
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