Dr Gerry Bermann passed away on 12 June 2008 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was just shy of his 80th birthday.
Gerry was an old-fashioned family doctor. He had a thriving office practice, looked after patients in hospital, did surgical assists, and made frequent house calls. He also had a thriving nursing-home practice at Youville and Louis Brier long-term care facilities. His main connection was with St. Vincent’s Hospital in Vancouver, which he served in many capacities.
He had great respect for his profession and his colleagues. He valued his teachers, whom he frequently quoted. He had a regular group of specialists to which he referred most of his patients. In an era in which criticizing your co-workers is common, I never heard him make negative comments about any of his colleagues. He had that old-fashioned respect for other members of the medical profession.
Gerry was born in southwest Africa, which subsequently became the independent country of Namibia. Namibia was a former German colony, and when he lived there it was administered by South Africa. Although born in Windhoek, he went to boarding school in Cape Town and subsequently to medical school there.
After interning in Montreal, he returned to Windhoek where he practised for 5 years before coming to Vancouver. After a year of residency at Shaughnessy Hospital, he settled into practice in Vancouver. He continued to practice at 809 W. 41st Avenue for more than 35 years.
During his early years, his practice included minor surgical procedures and obstetrics. Later on, he gravitated more to geriatrics both in the office and in nursing homes. However, there were always babies as well as seniors in his office. He never gave up doing house calls, especially visiting the housebound elderly. Even when his patients were under the care of other doctors, he would continue to make regular courtesy visits.
I was pleased to be his office colleague for many years. From him, I learned humility and respect for others. He taught me how to read ECGs, give cortisone injections, and look after hospital patients.
Gerry was a creature of habit. Tuesday was always his day off. Kathy Williams was his constant office receptionist and assistant. He met with the same group of people almost every morning at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the cafeteria for morning coffee.
Surgery was one of his special interests. He performed operations when he worked in Windhoek. He continued to assist at surgeries for many years. Dr William Yu recounts the story that at one of his later surgeries, Gerry reported that he had received a letter stating that physicians had to stop assisting in the operating room at the age of 70. He gleefully responded, “This doesn’t apply to me. I’m 77!” Outside of the office, Gerry was a family man. He had a special relationship with Sheila, his wife of 34 years, and he was very attached to his mother-in-law and father-in-law. These relationships were especially important to him because he didn’t have a large family of his own.
He was a doting father. I suspect that he would have given anything to his children. He bragged that his son Bob made the best steak and frites in Toronto. His daughters Simone and Cindy doted on him and he on them. He was especially enamoured with his five grandchildren. Although his children and grandchildren lived in New York, Toronto, and Winnipeg, distance did not dim their close relationship.
Dietitian friend Linda Lim recalled, “He had an absolute passion for hockey. Not only did he know all the Canucks players, their strengths and weaknesses, but he was equally conversant about players on other teams. Many mornings were spent dissecting the previous night’s game or strategizing for the next game. We were always sure that any day the Canucks GM would be phoning him to take on coaching duties.”
In the end, he fought his battle with cancer with dignity and courage. When sitting at the restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park, we encouraged him to have a drink of wine with us. He initially thought that this would be incompatible with his recent chemotherapy, but, after a while, he threw caution to the wind and joined us in a glass of wine as we wished each other good health. Near the end, when he had become more frail, he insisted on going upstairs in his house to use the upstairs bathroom rather than the main floor bathroom, much to the chagrin of his wife Sheila.
Gerry Bermann was a unique individual. He didn’t see snow until he was in his 20s, but became an ardent hockey fan. He hailed from that little-known country of Namibia and could get excited when my mother’s cruise ship stopped there in Walvis Bay. He kept practising medicine long after most of his colleagues had retired. He was bright, inquisitive, and charming until the end.
According to friend Dr Les Sheldon, Gerry cited his greatest accomplishment as never having had a complaint about him submitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 50 years of practice. What a great legacy for the rest of us.
—Larry Barzelai, MD
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