Dr. Geoff Cowburn has long been an essential part of the McBride Community, saving lives and patching people up. Back in the late 1970’s when we arrived in the Robson Valley, he was the only doctor. He is in many ways what you would expect of a country doctor--kind, wise, dedicated, and knowledgeable. When I was concerned about the color of my urine, his first question to me was, “Have you been eating beets?”--I had.
Yesterday, the community gathered, told stories about him, and named the conference room in the hospital after him. He thanked the audience in his quiet dignified English-accented voice. It made me feel good to see all the people there, eager to recognize all the work Dr. Cowburn has given to the Robson Valley. Some in the audience had been delivered by him.
I don’t know when Dr. Cowburn moved to tiny isolated McBride, but it was before Hwy. 16 was built. Access then was by train. On his first day, he and a nurse had to perform an emergency appendectomy, and deal with two tubal pregnancies. Being the lone physician in such a huge undeveloped area must have been a huge burden. Previous doctors had left because it was just “too much work”, but Dr. Cowburn stuck around and worked until a few years ago, when Jane, his wife died.
Dr. Cowburn did have a life outside medicine. We discovered some of his other interests when we boarded one of his horses at our place. He would come periodically and spoil the horse with a warm mulch of oats and sorghum. One year we ended up driving his horse to Spruce Meadows, Canada’s big equestrian center in Calgary.
His other big interest was flying. It was always a treat to see his bright yellow Tiger Moth biplane circling against the blue sky and mountains. His plane also played a part in his doctoring. There are stories of him flying to see isolated patients, landing in their fields, and delivering prescriptions to places as far away as Blue River, BC.
If there was an emergency at the hospital, when he was out flying around, the hospital staff would put a white sheet on the roof of the hospital to signal that he was needed at the hospital.
Below, is a photo of Dr. Cowburn, in his Tiger Moth.
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