Dr Al Swan was a remarkable man with an impressive gift of a near-photographic memory. He was a modest but formidable savant in many areas, and it was a treat to be in his company.
After graduating from Queen’s University in 1953, he married his lifelong soul mate, Rosa Dirom—it was a most successful union.
In 1954 Al set up practice in Pender Harbour at St. Mary’s, a small country hospital built by the Columbia Coast Mission. Here he had to do it all—and he did. His work included house calls by both boat and plane. He truly cared for his patients, frequently taking their problems onto his shoulders.
Al was very competent and never wanted to fall behind. He was instrumental in establishing a sabbatical system for our clinic as we grew in numbers. Every fifth year we would go somewhere for postgraduate training. He was a talented mentor.
Fishing and RVing were his passions. The Swan family, including their three biological children and a foster son, made countless trips on their boat.
A debilitating illness gradually robbed him of his faculties. This he bore with uncomplaining dignity. But from deep down, his remarkable memory would surface on occasion—near the end, surrounded by his devoted family, he muttered “I’m going fishing.” He should have written a book.
He was a most honorable man with a great sense of humor. After I had a short locum with him in 1959, he suggested we become partners. I agreed, and asked how we would do that. He replied, “We shake on it.” And that’s all we ever needed. He was the best partner I could have ever had, and I told him that.
The end involved the supernatural. He died at 10 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. At midnight Central Standard Time I was in Manitoba and awoke from a most vivid dream. In it Al was at a party, in his prime. He looked at me, gave a gentle smile, and raised his glass. And I knew he had died.
—Eric Paetkau, MD
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