Early this year a great mentor and friend passed away peacefully at his beloved St. Paul’s Hospital.
Bob was born in Ashcroft to a pioneering family and lived most of his early years in Salmon Arm. There he was an avid sportsman, playing lacrosse and basketball on provincial championship teams. As he completed high school the country was at war and, like so many others, he signed up before his 18th birthday. After initial flight training in Canada, he was posted to transport command in England flying DC3s. Bob was active in the Battle of Arnhem and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the NATO Bar Special Service Medal of Honour.
Post-war he continued in the Air Force reserve while he pursued his bachelor of arts degree in English at UBC. A new medical school at UBC was announced, and after submitting his application, Bob drove to Central America with Peter Postuk (UBC MD ’55) and Steve King. Their adventures in Costa Rica were written up in the Vancouver Sun as they unknowingly found themselves in the midst of a gunrunning scheme with local revolutionaries. What would have been a fatal ambush was thwarted with a fortunate tip-off to the local authorities. They limped home crewing on a fishing boat, and Bob became part of UBC’s first medical class in the fall of 1950.
Bob often reflected on the challenges of being in that first UBC class. Professors pushed them hard in order to make sure that UBC measured up against the eastern schools. It was during medical school that Bob met Nan, a bright and witty lab technologist, and they married during his St. Paul’s internship year. They traveled to England, where Bob completed 2 years of general surgery and orthopaedics post-grad training at Billericky Hospital in London. Their first son, David, was born in 1954 and then Jeff in 1955. Near the end of their time in England, David developed encephalitis and became permanently handicapped. Bob and Nan would become active in founding the Vancouver Association for the Mentally Retarded. Daughters Mary Kay and Margo arrived in the early ’60s, and David would become a beacon of love and laughter for friends and family for decades to follow.
Bob was passionate about family practice. He was a member of the medical staff at St. Paul’s for over 30 years and was the founding head of the Department of Family Practice. Early practice was in the pre-medicare era and payment sometimes came fresh from his patients’ gardens! Like most GPs at that time, Bob provided comprehensive care for his patients, which included obstetrics, office practice, regular emergency shifts, as well as minor and more major surgeries. In the early years, Bob’s surgical slate could include appendectomy, cholecystectomy, tonsillectomy, inguinal hernia, or even vagotomy and pyloroplasty surgeries. Bob continued regular shifts in St. Paul’s emergency well in to his 60s and also served a term as head of its Department of Emergency Medicine.
Bob loved to teach. He regularly mentored medical students and residents in his office and was perhaps most passionate about teaching in the ER. One of Bob’s very proud accomplishments was the establishment of the St. Paul’s CCFP Emergency Residency Training Program. I have enjoyed hearing countless accolades about Bob when meeting former students at meetings and conferences; it is clear that he had a significant impact as a teacher.
Bob also enjoyed being active in medical politics. He served as president of the Vancouver Medical Association as well as the Section of General Practice, and served as VP of the BC chapter of the CCFP. He also co-chaired a then-BCMA committee that successfully negotiated the establishment of the CME Medical Education Fund with government.
Bob had many passions outside of medicine as well. He enjoyed salmon- and fly-fishing, and owned a fishing lodge in Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island at one time. Along with friends, he built a log cabin at Eagan Lake in the Cariboo, which became the favorite family retreat. He was always keen to try something new and even took up windsurfing at age 55. He returned to flying after an almost 40-year hiatus, plying the skies in his home-built Murphy Rebel amphibious floatplane.
Bob remarried later in life and enjoyed many years of good food, travel, and abundant laughter with his wife, Blossom. In his twilight years they were inseparable and enjoyed local walks and restaurants. Bob loved his False Creek home and was able to remain there until very near his passing. Bob “slipped the surly bonds of earth” with Blossom at his side after a very brief hospitalization at St. Paul’s.
—Jeff Purkis, MD
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