It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Dr (William) Donald Watt. Don was born in Allendale (now Barrie) Ontario on 14 November 1924, and passed away peacefully in his sleep on 29 December 2018 at the age of 94 in Abbotsford, BC. He was predeceased by his wife of 57 years, (Victoria) June Watt; his parents, Rev (William) John Watt and Edith Catherine Watt; his six older siblings and their partners; and his first grandchild, Lorraine. He is survived by his children, (William) David Watt (Cindy), George Donald Watt (Ying), Victoria Joy Manson (Bradley), and Elizabeth June Watt (Denis Durand).
Don joined the Royal Canadian Air Force after high school and received his wings as World War II was ending. He graduated from the University of Toronto with his MD in 1950, then interned and worked at the Wellesley Hospital, Hospital for Sick Children, and Toronto Western Hospital for the next 2 years where he met June, a nurse and former World War II Wren (member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service).
In 1952 Don began a 38-year career working for the United Church of Canada (UCC), Board of Home Missions. Initially placed as the lone MD on the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii), he delivered medical care via plane, truck, and boat, with June volunteering by his side. He was soon assigned the position of coroner, justice of the peace, and medical health officer. He set up clinics in Sandspit, Skidegate Village, Masset, and in logging camps at Juskatla and Cumshewa Inlet, and facilitated building the 21-bed Queen Charlotte City Hospital, which opened in 1955.
In 1956 Don moved to Bella Coola, where he spent 7 years as physician, hospital superintendent, and caregiver to lighthouses and remote logging camps in the area. He was later adopted into the Nuxalk (Bella Coola) Nation by the Walkus and Edgar families and named Nooskumiich (one who heals with his hands) and Nenetsmlayc (one who brings back to life) at the opening of the new Bella Coola Hospital in 1980.
In the early 1960s Don moved to Prince Rupert and then Vancouver as medical superintendent for all the UCC hospitals across Canada. A gifted orator, he spent the next 24 years traveling to UCC medical outposts from BC to Newfoundland negotiating the building of new hospitals and acquiring new equipment, recruiting dedicated staff, encouraging local hiring, and ensuring local representation on hospital boards. He continued to practise medicine as a relief physician wherever needed.
While in Vancouver, Don served on the boards of St. Michael’s Centre, Chalmers Lodge, St. Stephen’s United Church, and the Alcohol-Drug Education Service. A proponent of full-service family medicine, Don received his CCFP in 1971 and his FCFP in 1974. Beginning in 1980 he served two terms as president of the BC College of Family Physicians, and in 1986 was president of the College of Family Physicians Canada. A champion of the 2-year family practice residency, he spent 25 years as a clinical instructor for the UBC Medical School. Don received an honorary doctorate of divinity from Union College, UBC, in 1970, and the David M. Bachop Gold Medal in 1989 in recognition of “his successful and resourceful efforts to bring care to small, isolated communities.”
Don and June will be forever missed, but their legacy of hospitality, selflessness, humor, grace, and excellence in delivering medical care to those who needed it most remains. More of their story can be found in the book Healing in the Wilderness, by Rev. Bob Burrows. A memorial service and celebration of this extraordinary life was held at Trinity United Memorial Church in Abbotsford on 2 February.
—Elizabeth J. Watt, MD
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