I had only been working at the BC Archives for about a month when I came across the Canadian Who’s Who [NW920 C212] in the library. For a lark, I decided to see if my dad’s name was in it. Lo and behold, there it was, and I was in there too! I didn’t care much that my name was spelled incorrectly because frankly this would probably be the only time my name would be in any Who’s Who.
I should not have been so surprised to find my dad in a Who’s Who because to most of the world my dad was a renowned doctor and researcher in the field of neurology but, to me, he was just my dad. That statement, even though it might sound flippant, means so much more. With all of his professional accomplishments my dad was a wonderful father who was unpretentious, generous, loving and fair.
What was surprising was that he was in the Canadian Who’s Who. You see, my family is not originally from British Columbia, or Canada for that matter. As it mentions in Who’s Who, my dad was born in Beijing [Peking], China, but here is what it doesn’t mention; he was the youngest of five children and the son of a Southern Methodist Church missionary doctor. My dad’s family lived in Changzhou, where my grandfather took over direction of the area’s hospital and raised funds through a nationwide tour of the US to build a new 300-bed hospital. The family was forced to leave their home in 1940 when all Americans were ordered out of China and returned to the US. He and his family settled in Georgia.
After college, medical school, an internship, residency and a two-year service in the Peace Corp, my dad’s career took all of us (my mom, me and my three brothers) to Canada in 1972. We are the only branch of our family to live in this great country.
It was my dad’s establishment of pioneering multi-disciplinary multiple sclerosis clinics at the University of Western Ontario and the University of British Columbia, and his passionate work with various multiple sclerosis clinics throughout the country, which made him a renowned scientist in the field of neurology.
To me, my father was a man who was not only passionate about his work, but about life in general and his first love – music. Not only did he love jazz, classical and big band music, he played the saxophone and clarinet, and was the drum major for his high school marching band. I’m no neurologist, so love of music was something my dad and I could share.
His two passions, work and music, came together when he wanted to raise money for brain research at UBC Hospital in the early 1980s. He was able to recruit the talented Leon Bibb, an American folk singer and actor, to help raise awareness for such a research centre.
This leads me to my second discovery in the BC Archives. One day, while walking to my office, an archivist colleague stopped me and said, “Guess what I came across today?” She was in the process of describing the Jack Webster current affairs television show; full of a decade’s worth of a visual “who’s who” of prominent British Columbians. I was amazed when she told me my dad was interviewed by Jack Webster. I knew my dad had been interviewed before, but to actually find one in the archives where I work was special. Once the archivist’s work was completed, I ordered a copy for my own family records. The interview from 1985 includes not only my dad but also Leon Bibb, as they promoted awareness and fundraising for brain research at UBC Hospital.
As I watched the interview for the first time I could see my dad wasn’t his usual smiling self, nobody else apart from close family and friends would see it, but my father was not happy. My dad appeared very stern, which could have meant that he was a little nervous. But I don’t think so. He can be heard chuckling a couple of times during Webster’s story, but I think he was frustrated with Webster interrupting the conversation and veering off topic; Webster’s natural brash interview style. Take a look:
Since working at the BC Archives I have become even more conscious of my ancestry; it is amazing what you can find in the millions of records here. I am lucky when it comes to my family tree because relatives on both sides of my family have conducted extensive research into our genealogy.
My dad passed away in 2004, but before he did he was fortunate to journey back to his birthplace with one son and a nephew (both doctors) to visit the hospital his father had established. He also lived long enough to see the birth of three grandsons, and with so much information now available online, my son and nephews will be able to research all about their grandfather … my dad.