Dr Harry Walker Webster

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 53, No. 7, September 2011, Page 365 Obituaries

In August 2010 I heard that Harry was unwell, so I contacted him and was invited to join him at his home overlooking Nanoose Bay. I drank tea with Harry and his wife, Lou, on their sunny patio, and Harry told me that he had recently discovered a hard lump above his right clavicle that had tested positive for small cell carcinoma.

Harry had an interesting early life. His well-produced biography, Bring on Tomorrow, details his childhood in South America and his subsequent life in Canada. 

Harry was born in Chile in 1930, a birthplace that would cause him trouble when crossing borders even after he obtained his Canadian passport. When he was an infant, his family moved to La Paz, Bolivia, where his father continued his business enterprises. While in La Paz Harry was educated at the German school, but when German propaganda at the school increased—including the instituting of the Nazi salute—his family withdrew him in 1938.

In 1939 Harry and his brothers left for boarding school in Santiago, Chile. They traveled south by train on a spectacular rail route reaching 13000 feet before ending at Antofagasta, Chile. This was followed by a boat trip to Valparaiso and another train to Santiago, to the Grange School.

By 1944, difficulties with the Bolivian government were affecting Harry’s father’s ability to conduct business in the country, and he decided to move the family to Vancouver.

In March 1945, Harry, his brother, and his father boarded a Liberty ship for New York, picking up strategic cargo along the west coast of South America. After passing through the Panama Canal they were considered to be in a war zone, and they were escorted by planes and naval units until reaching New York 3 weeks later. They completed their journey to Vancouver by rail, and reunited with the ladies of the family who had made the trip by air through the US. 

Harry’s father purchased a family home on West 40th Avenue and he and his partners took ownership of an import business. Harry and his brother entered high school at Prince of Wales and attended grade 13 at King Edward. After graduation they worked in the forestry industry, but after 2 years of working in various jobs in logging camps on Vancouver Island (fire watcher, whistle punk, and cat swamper) Harry decided that was not what he wanted to do. His brother Alec stayed in the industry.

In 1948 Harry consulted with the university counseling service and decided to pursue a career in the medical field. Knowing that in 1950 a new medical school was to open in Vancouver, Harry enrolled in the pre-medical program. While attending university he participated in many fraternal and social activities, and also joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps, which involved extensive training in all forms of artillery. The Korean War broke out, but Harry was spared call-up and joined the first class of the new UBC medical school in 1950.

Harry graduated in May 1954 and spent his junior internship at the Montreal General Hospital, where he met his wife, Louise. After marrying in 1955 they moved to Vancouver, where Harry spent a year training in surgery at Shaughnessy Hospital. He then looked for a place to practise, rejecting several options before finally choosing Port Alberni.

For 34 years he maintained a busy general practice, cultivating a special relationship with the First Nations in the community. He was also a member of the Kinsmen Club, served on City Council, and spent 7 years on the Port Alberni Harbour Commission.

In 1965 Harry hired a locum and traveled to England with his family for a year to study pediatrics, obtaining the DCH.

Harry retired from full-time practice in 1990, and he and Lou moved to a new home in Nanoose Bay, where he enjoyed developing a garden on the hillside. By request he did locum work, made a 3-month trip as a cruise ship doctor, and volunteered twice in Guatemala as a translator and physician. He was a charter member and past-president of the Probus Club of Nanoose Bay. 

Harry’s family was his greatest priority, and in 2007 he was able to take some of them on a tour of discovery to the places where he spent his youth in South America.

Despite his many pressures, Harry always kept a cheerful, positive demeanor. He was interested in people, and was a good listener—rarely irritated or dispirited. He was an excellent associate in practice.

Harry’s carcinoma was rapidly followed by hepatic and cerebral metastases unresponsive to radiation and chemotherapy, and he died quietly at home on 24 December 2010 in the company of his family.

Our sympathy to Lou and the children; Patti, Lynn, John, and Margie; and their families.
—John A. Jemson, MD
Port Alberni

John A. Jemson, MD,. Dr Harry Walker Webster. BCMJ, Vol. 53, No. 7, September, 2011, Page(s) 365 - Obituaries.

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