November 14, 1924 – December 29, 2018
It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. (William) Donald Watt. Don was born in Allendale (now Barrie) Ontario on November 14, 1924, and passed away peacefully in his sleep on December, 29, 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 6 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).
After high school Don enlisted in the Royal Canadian Airforce, and received his wings as WW2 was ending. He graduated from the University of Toronto with his MD in 1950, then spent 2 years at the Toronto Western Hospital where he met June, a former WW2 Wren in her final year of nurses training.
Don was sent to the west coast of Canada by the United Church of Canada (UCC) in 1952 where he spent the next 38 years working for their Board of Home Missions, with June volunteering at his side. Don was first placed as the lone MD on the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii), and worked out of Queen Charlotte City (QCC), while June volunteered her time working 12 hour nursing shifts and assisting Don in the OR. Don also set up clinics in Sandspit, Skidegate Village, Masset, and logging camps at Juskatla and Cumshewa Inlets, travelling by plane, boat, and truck. His practice included surgery and drop ether anesthesia, and hiking into dense woods to stabilize accident victims. He facilitated the building of the 21-bed QCC hospital which opened in 1955. Don was transferred to the Bella Coola General Hospital in 1956, where he spent the next 7 years as physician and Hospital Superintendent. Working from the Thomas Crosby church boat, he also provided additional medical care to lighthouses and remote logging camps in the
area and rode horseback into the mountains to attend accident victims. Don was later adopted into the Nuxalk (Bella Coola) Nation by the Walkus and Edgar families, and given the names “Nooskumiich (One who heals with his hands) and Nenetsmlayc” (One who brings back to life) in celebration of the opening of the new Bella Coola hospital in 1980.
Don was transferred to Prince Rupert in 1963 as Medical Superintendent for the UCC hospitals in BC. The following year, he became the Medical Superintendent for all UCC hospitals across Canada, and the family moved to Vancouver. He spent the next 24 years travelling across the country and into Northern BC in support of all the Church outposts, and providing front-line medical care as a relief physician wherever needed. While in Vancouver, Don served on numerous boards, including the boards of St. Michael’s Centre, Chalmers Lodge, St. Stephens United Church and the Alcohol Drug Education Service. A gifted orator, Don spent the next 24 years travelling to UCC medical outposts from BC to Newfoundland negotiating the building of new hospitals and the acquisition of new equipment, recruiting dedicated staff, encouraging local hiring, and ensuring local representation on hospital boards. He continued to practice medicine as a relief physician wherever needed.
A staunch believer in full service Family Medicine, Don received his CCFP in 1971, followed by an FCFP in 1974. Beginning in 1980 he served 2 terms as the president of the BC College of Family Physicians, in 1986 was the president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) Nationally, and received his life membership with the CFPC in 1994. He was a vocal proponent of the 2-year Family Practice residency and spent 25 years as a clinical Instructor for the UBC Medical School.
On his retirement as Medical Superintendent in 1988, Don returned to Family Practice and spent the next 1 years as a Family Physician at the Wrinch Memorial Church Hospital in Hazelton, BC. Don and June then retired to Vancouver, travelled the world, spent time at their beloved cabin on Nelson Island, took care of grandchildren, and remained active parishioners at St. Stephen’s United Church in Vancouver until June’s passing in 2008.
Don moved to Abbotsford for the last six years of his life to be close to family. He was welcomed into the Trinity Memorial United Church family, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 15 (known there as “Doc”), and the Matsqui ANAVETS Unit 315. He became friends with everyone he met and delighted in frequenting the coffee houses and merchants in his neighbourhood.
Don was awarded an honourary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Union College at UBC in 1970. In 1989 he received the David M. Bachop Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to Health Care in British Columbia, ” . . . notably his successful and resourceful efforts to bring care to small, isolated communities such as Bella Coola and the Queen Charlottes”.
Don and June will be forever missed, but their legacy of hospitality, selflessness, humour, grace, and excellence in delivery of medical care to those who needed it most remains. More of their story can be found in the book “Healing in the Wilderness” by the Rev. Bob Burrows.
A Memorial Service and celebration of this extraordinary life will be held at Trinity United Memorial Church 33737 George Ferguson Way, Abbotsford, on Saturday, February 2 at 2 pm.