In Memory of Dr. Robert Douglas Burgess, Class of 7T4

by Dr. William Akeroyd, Class of 7T4

Dr. Rob Burgess, at age 71, on September 14, 2021, in Whistler, British Columbia

My dear friend Rob passed away at home in his bedroom overlooking a gorgeous lake and mountain vista. He had been lovingly cared for by his wife, Jan; daughter, Micky; and son, Johnny. His illness was sudden and cruelly aggressive. He stuck to his life’s motto: If you are going to go downhill, make it fast!

Rob and I met in 1968 in first year pre-med at U of T (my God, we were only 18) and became lifelong friends. In 1972, we drove to Banff for summer employment. While there, we both realized that the mountains were going to dominate our future. Amazingly, we navigated the intern matching service and were both accepted into the rotating intern program at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. We also discovered Whistler, which has some of the best ski runs on the continent.

Our first job after St. Paul’s took us to Vernon Jubilee Hospital, in the B.C. interior, where we worked in the emergency department. Two summers of Vernon, multiple locums, and extended travel led Rob to inquire about a job as a physician with the Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol.

He quickly learned that mountain medicine is much different than that in the confines of a hospital and he thrived. He spent time with the orthopod Dr. Pat McConkey and honed his physical diagnostic skills in sports medicine. Rob often complained that he felt bad having his patients pay for an MRI of their knee when he had already given them their diagnosis.

In the early 1980s, Rob, along with Dr. Christine Rodgers, began offering full family practice services out of an ATCO trailer in Whistler. The medicine was never boring and was often carried out in challenging outdoor settings. Rob joined an energetic community and worked to expand Whistler’s health care facilities to the high standard they are today.

Rob gave a lot to the mountain community, and the mountain community gave a lot to Rob. He relished the opportunities he was offered. Whether it was as a physician to the National Alpine Ski Team or physician guide to various heli-ski companies, all parties benefitted.

A few years ago, Rob gave up his family practice but was unable to give up on his community. He became busier than ever with locums and aviation physicals. Following his diagnosis, he regretted having to give up a COVID vaccine clinic.

Here’s to a man well loved and a life well lived. We will all miss you, Rob.

Reprinted with permission from the British Columbia Medical Journal


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