Dr Robert Riley Wilson, 1921–2016

Dr Bob Wilson, occasionally known as Riley, died quietly on Thanksgiving Monday, after a life well lived, and in narrow avoidance of “any fuss” for his 95th birthday.

Born and raised in North Vancouver, he was kept (mostly) in line by his three older siblings (Ellen, George, and Berte).

He quarterbacked and captained the North Vancouver High School football team and played scrum half both in high school and for the North Shore All Blacks. He met his beloved Ethel at school, and they married in 1945.

During the Second World War, Bob worked at the Burrard Shipyards, first as a general hand, and then as a draughtsman. His work was deemed an essential service, and thus he was not able to enlist in the armed services. Since he was not eligible for any of the educational benefits that were available to his returning friends, Bob and Ethel worked hard to put him through bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, and then medicine, graduating in the UBC class of 1955. He was considered the “old married guy with a family” in the class. Ethel worked to support the family, and Bob studied in the woodshed and worked on weekends digging ditches and graves, and swamping on the garbage truck.

After internship, he practised in Vernon and Port Renfrew, and then joined friends and med school classmates Peter Postuk and Mel Smith in Duncan, where he practised for the remainder of his career. He was a family doctor beloved by his patients and highly respected by his colleagues. Dr Bob made house calls, even after his official retirement, because he said he could learn more about patients by seeing them in their home for 5 minutes than he could by seeing them in the office for 25. He also served as local coroner for many years.

The little spare time that he had was spent with his family at the Maple Bay cabin, or for several years, sailing. From a Sabot, to a friend’s Lightning, to a chartered Cal, to his own Coronado, Bob and a close-hauled sailboat were made for one another despite Ethel’s less-than-enthusiastic response to heeling!

From night school classes he took up metal lathe work, and he was a creative solver of many construction and mechanical problems for his children and grandchildren. His New Year’s trumpet playing and hot air balloon UFOs will be missed by his family, if not by the neighborhood.

Fly-fisherman, dog lover, decent and gentle man, an inspiration for young and aspiring physicians, another of the good guys has gone.

He was predeceased by his wife, Ethel (2006); son, Jim (1998); son-in-law, Gerry (2006); and his siblings.

A month before Bob passed on, his daughter, Joan, asked him for advice, some words to live by, and after a few minutes of reflection he said, “Three things: do your best, tell the tales, take care of your own boat.”
—Joan Wilson, BSc, DipEd
—Donald Hilton, MD, FRCPC

Joan Wilson, BSc, DipEd, Donald R. Hilton, MD, FRCPC. Dr Robert Riley Wilson, 1921–2016. BCMJ, Vol. 58, No. 10, December, 2016, Page(s) 590-591 - Obituaries.

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