Thursday, October 11, 2007

Robert A. Burns was a Good Man and my Father


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas

On October 6th, 2007, Dr. Robert A. Burns (known to all his friends as "Bob"), passed away at the Delta Hospital after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 86. He was a gentle soul raging for a time but accepting the dying of his light with characteristic grace and dignity.

He was born in Wilkie, Sask., in 1921. He grew up and attended high school in that small prairie town along with his sister Eunice, brothers Gordon and Stan. During his childhood, he developed a love of hockey which he continued well into his later years. When war broke out in Europe, he took flight training in Manitoba and became a flight lieutenant with the RCAF. For most of the war he was stationed in Gibralter piloting a Hudson bomber out over the North African coast in search of German and Italian submarines. Toward the war’s end, he was transferred to a base near Prestwick, Scotland, where he met his future wife, Sylvia Kathleen Ludgate from Ayr. They were married in 1944 and returned to Canada shortly thereafter.

They took up residence in Saskatoon, where Robert began studying Pre-Med at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1946, their first son, Wayne was born. On completion of his Pre-med studies, Bob with Sylvia and baby son, moved to Toronto where he built a small house and buckled down to complete his M.D. at the University of Toronto.

Because of a long affinity for British Columbia, he and Sylvia decided to move to the coast and Dr. Robert Burns interned at the Vancouver General Hospital. In 1951 their second son, Graham was born and the young family moved to Port Alberni, a bustling pulp, paper and sawmill town at the time. Over the next thirteen years in Port Alberni, Dr. Burns practiced family medicine, became a respected member of the local medical community and participated in various community organizations, the PTA, the Boy Scouts and Alberni Valley Rotarians. He became a vocal member of the School Board. The family had a cottage on Sproat Lake where they spent memorable summers. There were vacations in Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Hornby Island with their many friends. In 1963 his third son, Kevin was born.

In 1964 after a long search for a place to further his studies toward a specialty in skin diseases, Dr. Burns and family embarked on the next four years for further studies in Dermatology at a Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Long Beach, California. While the work was intense, the four years were productive. But with the war in Vietnam, race riots in Watts and the political situation in the USA seeming more and more precarious, the family decided to return to the sanctity of Canada in 1968. They settled in Tsawwassen. Dr. Burns began practicing Dermatology in offices in both Richmond and later, Tsawwassen. He quickly built a thriving practice which he continued until he was 77 when he retired. He loved the daily routine of his office and was a reluctant retiree. Throughout his active years, he was an enthusiastic member of the local golf and tennis clubs and a proud Rotarian. His other loves were listening to jazz, playing the piano, traveling around the world on frequent trips with Sylvia, charting the ups and downs of the stock market, telling a good joke, and plying the local waters in a boat he co-owned with another doctor. He was a compassionate, caring and generous doctor all his life, delivering hundreds of babies in Port Alberni, administering to the needs of the native people on the reserve in Alberni, and frequently going out on call at all hours of the night. In Richmond and Tsawwassen he built up a large and loyal patient base as a Dermatologist, receiving referrals from most of the general practitioners in the two communities.

He is deeply missed and remembered by Sylvia, his wife for 63 years of marriage, his three sons, Wayne, Graham and Kevin and his six grandchildren. The Burns family would like to thank his caregivers at the Waterford and the staff at the Palliative Care ward of the Delta Hospital. A Memorial will be held in his honour for friends and family, on Sunday, October 14th from 2 to 4 PM in the reception room at Fairway Estates on Hunter Road in Tsawwassen. Anyone who wishes to attend is welcome and should call [604] 731-6317 for details and directions.

Obituary written by Wayne D. Burns

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