At 0507 on 21 September 2005, Thom weighed anchor, unfurled the main and nosed into the freshening breeze to begin his final voyage. His farewells completed, he was at peace with his mortality. As a symbolic salute, there was a complete power failure in Peace Arch Hospital at the moment of his passing.
Thom was born in Deventer, the Netherlands, and raised on the family cargo vessel leading to a lifelong tie to the sea. He entered medical school at Utrectht University but his studies were interrupted when occupying German forces closed the university. Refusing to collaborate, Thom was conscripted and transported to Germany to work. As a third-year medical student, he found himself head of the neurology ward of a large hospital in Berlin. During a bombing raid, he went AWOL and attempted to return by train to Holland. Lacking identity papers, he was arrested at the border by the German police and jailed. Subsequently he was moved to a so-called education camp, where he contracted typhus. Sixty-five pounds lighter, he was transferred to work in a second hospital. On observing his emaciated condition the Sister Superior declared, “Doctor you need a vacation.” With legal papers, he returned to his Dutch home. Years later when recounting his wartime adventures, Thom would chuckle with a twinkle in his dark eyes and declare, “I am still on that vacation!”
From 1944 to 1945 he served in the Dutch Resistance Forces. During these tumultuous times with the Underground, he had numerous adventures. On several occasions, he narrowly evaded capture by the Gestapo, interrogation, torture, and almost certain death by firing squad. Many of his compatriots did not survive the war. In 1945 he received a citation from Prince Bernard of the Netherlands for his wartime resistance contribution.
Following the war, Thom completed his medical degree and purchased a thriving family practice. In 1953 he immigrated to Canada with his wife and two sons. After completing internship at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, he qualified by passing the LMCC in 1954. He settled with his family in the Royal City, where he rapidly built a flourishing general practice with surgical and obstetrical privileges at the Royal Columbian and St. Mary’s Hospitals. He was respected by his colleagues and adored by his patients. Thom was active in community affairs and became the division surgeon of St. John Ambulance for New Westminster. In 1963 he was admitted as a Serving Brother in the Order of St. John Ambulance, London, England.
In 1985, after 31 years of service in the general practice trenches, Thom retired from active practice. Unable to fully retard the throttle, he kept his hand on the pulse of the profession doing locums and surgical assists. In addition, he served as chief of staff at St. Mary’s Hospital from 1989 to 1995. It is ironic that St. Mary’s was demolished in the year of his passing!
Thom’s zest for life extended beyond the bounds of family and medicine. He had numerous hobbies and interests. He was an accomplished oil painter and his works enlivened the walls of our hospital.
His education was not limited to medicine. In 1987 he received his degree in yacht architecture from the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, Stamford, Connecticut, and became an associate member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers of the USA.
Sailing was a constant competing passion with his dedication to medicine. He was at peace with the world when at the helm—the rougher the sea, the better. His sailing adventures were many, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Atlantic. He competed in two Victoria-Maui yacht races. During the last one in 1992, Thom skippered a crew of cardiac surgery survivors, including himself. They were affectionately nicknamed the Zipper Club and finished first in their division and second overall. In life and at sea, Thom exuded confidence. Confronted with a crisis, be it of flailing spinnaker sheet or engine failure in tight quarters, he was always calm, focused, and resourceful—unflappable. Thom was the ultimate sailing mentor.
Thom was predeceased by his first wife, Anneke. He is survived and greatly missed by his loving wife of 33 years, Anna May (Girard); his sons from his first marriage, Robert (Brenda) and Tom (Pat); grandchildren, Michael, Tommy, Robbie, Lucy, Josie (James); and great-granddaughter, Annika.
Thom will always be remembered by his family and friends as a handsome Renaissance man with a beautiful mind. May the winds be steady and the seas forgiving for your voyage, Old Salt; safe passage to port.
—John Albrecht, MD
—Ruth Albrecht, MD