After a brief encounter with an aggressive malignancy the Cloverdale Cowboy hung up his saddle and spurs for the last time. He faced life’s last chapter with his usual wit, dignity and acceptance. When he informed me of his gloomy diagnosis he commented with his customary smile “Someone has to get these bad diseases”. In the end he epitomized Martin Luther’s dictum: Every man must do two things alone; He must do his own believing and his own dying. Bruce was in no rush to depart the zone. His heart continued to beat for twenty minutes after his last breath - a true GP shaman to the end.
Bruce’s life adventure began in rural Melfort, Saskatchewan and he never forgot his roots. They were engraved on his personality and life’s path. At age 10 he migrated west with his parents and older brother Doug, settling briefly in White Rock and finally Cloverdale. As a precocious teen of 14 he profiteered by picking up beer bottles with his father’s truck. After graduating from Lord Tweedsmuir High School, The University of B.C. beckoned. He joined the Young Liberal Party and learned the finer points of poker. His efforts were recognized and rewarded. He graduated with a medical degree in 1959. His classmates included Glen Smith (ENT), Dave Harder (Ortho), Gus Bruehler (GP), Drew Young (GP), Doug Clement (Sports Med) and June Schoenle. At this point Bruce’s life became pleasantly complicated as June became his first soul-mate. They married the same year and completed a one year internship in Newfoundland - the most lucrative program in the country!
After internship they returned to New Westminster to continue their careers and raise three children, Carolyn, Nancy and Scott. Bruce was very successful as a caring, compassionate and crusty GP with his colleague Ken Green - the proverbial Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. During this time June focused on raising their three children. Despite this challenge she was able to complete her residency in child psychiatry. After five years of bliss the train derailed. June was diagnosed with breast cancer that did not respond to therapy. My wife, Ruth, did a locum for the family’s last vacation to Hawaii. Before departing Bruce informed her: “ If your children are sick, just close the office”. That was Bruce!
In 1975 he married Gale Smith and adopted her son David. Gale was his partner and best friend for the next 36 years. During that time Bruce was father and mentor to David supporting his education and development into a respected family physician in our community.
Bruce always maintained his passion for his rural roots. In the mid 1960’s he collaborated with a high school teacher, Al Louie, to build a summer retreat at Green Lake in the Cariboo - all with the assistance of Al’s shop students! This would prove to be a sound investment for the family’s recreation and well being for the next thirty years. For Bruce the ideal holiday was two weeks at the lake chopping wood - and other activities such as duck hunting and ice fishing.
He overcame his fear of flying by earning his private pilots licence. Shortly afterward he acquired a hot, single engine, six place Cessna 207-CF-QRT. Bruce often described this machine as “ too hot of an airplane for a low time pilot”. QRT was the family’s transportation to their Green Lake cabin. His logged flying time rapidly accumulated. One hot summers day at the lake’s airstrip he experienced the harsh reality of high density altitude and a high flying fence. No metal was bent but shortly afterward he announced “I’m going to sell the plane”. He had the foresight to realize that aviation can be a risky endeavour.
Bruce enjoyed the challenges of general practice until 1991 when he passed the torch to a keen young energetic physician, John Yap. He also had the trust and wisdom to choose John as his own GP. His patients were never disappointed in his choice, nor was the medical community or Bruce himself.
He did not waste a moment in retirement. An obvious addict of the trade he continued to do locums and walk-in clinic shifts for his beleaguered colleagues. He enjoyed travel with Gale and rose to her creative artistic challenges. His new found sculpting talent was truly alien to Bruce. My favorite piece is a seven foot giraffe, Miranda, the silent foyer sentinel of their home.
Few knew that Bruce was also a closeted mechanical engineer. There was nothing he couldn’t fix. On one occasion he resuscitated a whirl-pooling toilet with a shoestring, a twist-tie and a piece of his belt - shades of Apollo 13, absolute genius!
Bruce was renowned for his rapier wit and incisive sense of humour. At departmental and staff meetings his perfectly timed one liners had the deadly impact of a silent fart in the middle of a church sermon. On one occasion he proposed a motion to expand the administrative executives to complete a bridge foursome. He could revive any terminal meeting!
Music was another of Bruce’s passions - especially town and country. Johnny Cash was his idol. On occasion he would entertain the family on the Green Lake sojourn with his acapella rendition of “A Boy Named Sue”.
Bruce lived for his soul-mates, children and grandchildren. His grandsons gave an amazing capsule of his personality traits:
He was an easy book to read - black or white, no ambiguous shades of grey. As quoted by his five year old grandson, Ashwin, “No means N-O, NOT, NEVER, NONE”.
In many ways Bruce has left the world a better place. His spirit and presence are remembered by his family, friends and colleagues.
Tuum est. Never a dull moment and not one wasted in 77 years!