Dr James Alan Pretty passed away peacefully at Irene Thomas Hospice on 1 August 2018. Alan was courageous and graceful in facing death from a glioblastoma multiforme. His dignity in death was a reflection of his life as a son, brother, husband, father, physician, leader, teacher, colleague, and friend.
Alan graduated from UBC in 1970 at the top of his medical class. He interned in San Diego. He studied internal medicine at VGH and in Edinburgh before he was lured into family practice, initially as a locum, at Hilltop Medical in White Rock in 1973. In a very short time, Hilltop Medical and the Peace Arch Hospital community recognized that an exceptional individual had arrived. He settled into the community with ease. Despite his extraordinary intellect he always treated his fellow physicians as equals (even though we were not). He was a physician role model. He was an excellent listener, compassionate to his patients, and a good communicator. His clinical medicine was above reproach, and his patients loved him. Medicine was his passion. He spent several years as medical director at Peace Arch Hospital and always had the respect of his fellow physicians, administrators, and the hospital board. He was able to navigate those treacherous waters without compromise but with respect from all sides.
Alan recognized early that computerization of medical records was important in good quality medical care. As a result he was instrumental in Hilltop Medical becoming fully computerized by 1997, well ahead of the curve across Canada. He was on the steering committee of the software company developing medical records for computers in those early days, and he took university computer programming classes to better understand the process, often with classmates 20 or more years younger. During the twilight years of his medical career, Alan traveled to the Northwest Territories to work as a locum (mainly in Hay River). He came to adore the North, with its beauty and solitude, and the northern communities’ culture and ambience. When Alan traveled he always made enduring friends, and this included the medical, nursing, and support staff in the North. He embraced frontier medicine.
Early to rise and never one to waste a moment, Alan had many impressive interests outside of medicine. He learned to sail in San Diego, and this skill took him to the South Pacific into the treacherous waters off Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He was away for a number of months on a small sailboat with one other adventurous soul. He was a skillful woodworker and built furniture and kayaks. He planned and built his own homes. He spent many hours kayaking off BC’s coast with friends. He was an expert skier. He was on the ski patrol at local mountains and enjoyed the Whistler terrain. He was a naturally talented painter. He was a scuba diver.
Alan traveled extensively both with his family and as a volunteer physician in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia with organizations delivering care to the less fortunate of our world. During these times he would take Spanish classes, sometimes for weeks. One of his volunteer assignments required that he learn to ride a motorcycle as a means of transport. He fell in love with motorcycles, bought a couple, and ventured through the Pacific Northwest, sometimes with his wife, Joan, sometimes alone, and sometimes with his biking buddies. And of course he took a motorcycle repair course so that he could do his own repairs.
He idolized his family. He adored Joan, his wife of 47 years, who was his best friend and confidante. Joan and Alan were devoted parents to Drew (Ashley) and Katie (Chris). They are entitled to be very proud of both of them. He adored his two grandchildren, Jayden and Kennedy. He also will be greatly missed by his sister, Eileen Cook of Calgary.
Alan was an incredible human. The world is a better place as a result of his being. He will be missed. He was a life role model for all of us. Despite all his amazing talents, his mischievous smirk will be missed the most.
—Grant Gibbings, MD
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