John Albrecht
In Memoriam

Reginald Robert Harper, M.D. (1916 - 2006)

Turn into wind
        Flaps 20°
          Water rudders retracted
               Full throttle
                    Onto the step
                         Airborne
                              Float spray dissipates into slipstream
                                   Flaps up
                                        Gentle climbing turn to port
                                             Trim and set course.

After a brief combat with malignancy, Reg set forth on his ultimate cross-country flight. Two months short of his 90th birthday, he had left no stones unturned. In the week before being admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital he had carried out his role as an aviation medical examiner.

Reg began his life adventure in Regina, December 4, 1916. The Great Depression was instrumental in his career selection. After earning a monthly stipend of $40 as a teacher, he returned to the University of Saskatchewan to attain his pre-medical degree. It was there that his lifeline intersected that of Anita Peters. They married in 1942 when he was in medical school at the University of Manitoba and were inseparable until her passing 63 years later. Reg completed his medical degree in 1944 and promptly joined the Canadian Army. As a 1st Lieutenant he was posted to Prince Rupert and Alliford Bay in the Queen Charlottes. During this time he had his first flight in a Canso flying boat and hands on experience in a Link Trainer - a lifelong passion with aviation was ignited. At the end of the war he demobilized with the rank of Captain.

Reg and Anita migrated west to the Lower Mainland of B.C. in 1951 where he set up practice in New Westminster and Surrey. Over the next four decades he established a thriving full time general practice as well as being a Transport Canada designated aviation medical examiner. Reg was well respected by his patients and colleagues.

In 1953 Reg attained his private pilot license at Vancouver Airport flying Fleet Canucks - off grass, sans radio. He acquired his first aircraft, a Piper Clipper, in 1955. It was the first of four. For the rest of his life he would have one hand on the control column and the other on the throttle.

It was fortunate that Anita shared Reg’s enthusiasm for aviation. While pregnant with their first child, she also earned her private pilot license and easily adjusted to the role of co-pilot and navigator. In the air Reg was always the Skipper. On the ground the roles were reversed.

As members of the Flying Physicians Association, Reg and Anita acquired invaluable cross-country experience - including all U.S. states except Hawaii and several trips to Oshkosh. For 20 consecutive years they winged south to Mexico.

During his 50 year flying career Reg logged over 3800 hours - a remarkable feat for a private pilot without a major accident. On one occasion, a temperamental sporadic radio resulted in the following admonition from a Santa Barbara air traffic controller: “Go away and don’t come back until you have got a new radio”. On another, he experienced a crosswind ground loop adventure in a Cessna 180. Final score: wingtip abrasion, injuries 0, fatalities 0. During another flight south Reg inadvertently overflew Vandenberg Air Force Base resulting in a jet fighter interception. After a quick look they were left in peace. On a Flying Physician’s cross-country venture into airfield-rich Anchorage, Reg landed at the wrong airport. After the clouds of confusion cleared, unperturbed he obtained a take-off clearance and joined the flight at the right strip. Reg was soft spoken, quick of wit and unassuming. He was even tempered and never resorted to profanity.

Reginald Robert Harper, M.D. (1916 - 2006)
Reginald Robert Harper, M.D. (1916 - 2006)

Reg’s passion for aviation and medicine was eclipsed by his devotion to Anita and their daughters Robin, Dawn and Jeanine. Early in his career, he acquired waterfront property at Sakinaw Lake on the Sunshine Coast. An initial tent platform was developed into three cabins - a retreat for summer vacations and family reunions. For the first five years transportation to Sakinaw was via float-equipped Piper Pacer. Holidays were always best for Reg when there was a flying angle.

Reg was a zealous outdoors man and sports enthusiast. He was a proficient downhill skier. With Anita as his constant companion he continued to enjoy this sport into his senior years. They were the ultimate team. Never shy of a challenge, Reg acquired the skills of sailboarding when many of his contemporaries were restricted to armchairs and walkers.

Reg and Anita were rewarded with grandchildren and a great-grandson. In 2005, at the age of 86, he celebrated his grandson Dave Abercrombie’s private pilot license with a dual cross-country adventure to the Experimental Aviation Association fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was very symbolic and proved to be his last major trip in the family Cessna 182. Dave is now pursuing a flying career as a bush pilot in Northern Ontario.

After Anita’s passing in March 2005, Reg continued his work as an aviation medical examiner and an active member of the Boundary Bay Flying Club (Bay 5 on the membership list). In addition he participated in the activities of the Newton Seniors Computer Club and maintained his musical skills with the North Shore Organ Group.

Our paths first crossed in 1972 when I did a locum tenens for Reg in his Surrey house converted to office. Meeting him had lifelong significance as my introduction to aviation medicine and a part time flying career. Reg was the catalyst and performed my initial aviation medical exam. For the next 30 years he continued to fill this role. On two occasions when I was grounded for medical reasons he was supportive and instrumental in my regaining fit flying status. During this time, he became a friend and mentor.

Reg’s departure has left a tremendous void in the lives of his family, friends, colleagues, and the aviation community.

HIGH FLIGHT

by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
412 Squadron, RCAF
September 3, 1941

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air ....

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space.
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Albrecht,
Burnaby, BC

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