Dr. R.B. White

Dr. R.B. White and his faithful companions take a break from the rounds in this undated photograph.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In recognition of Canada's 150th birthday The Herald is running local historical stories. For the next several weeks we are publishing stories from our archives on prominent builders in our community. The following story appeared on Feb. 9, 2007 in The Herald as part of a series on local builders.

He was known as the doctor who never refused a call.

Dr. R.B. (Reginald Brant) White was Penticton’s first, most well-known and most beloved family physician. He made his rounds on horseback to care for the sick and injured, no matter what their race, how far away they were or even their ability to pay.

Many years later, in a tribute to his lifelong friend, Summerland’s Dr. AF.W. Andrew wrote: “. . . mounted on a good horse, in fair or foul weather, with saddlebags containing drugs and dressings, he was common sight on the trail.”

A graduate of the McGill University medicine program in 1896, White opened his Penticton practice around 1902, moving here from the nearby mining community of Fairview.

Shirley White, 94, of Penticton, who married her childhood sweetheart, Dr. White’s son, the late R.V. (Jack) White, is one of the good doctor’s few surviving relatives.

And although it was a long, long time ago, the resident of Athens Creek Retirement Lodge vividly remembers her father-in-law.

“He was a very dear old man,” recalled Shirley. “He doctored me from the time I was eight years old — took out my tonsils and all of that. Mother and I were great friends with Dr. and Mrs. (Hester) White, not so much with the boys at that time, but I was in and out of the house all the time.”

According to Shirley, Dr. White’s first job after graduating was on the north shore of Lake Superior, but soon afterwards he moved to Fairview, where there was a gold rush and a very

thriving community.

As the mines began to fade, the doctor pulled up stakes moved to Penticton and established his practice.

“He did an awful lot of good work and never charged a lot of people,” said Shirley. “And it was nice doctoring because he came to the house . . . it was a different kind of doctoring than we get nowadays. You could always get him night or day — he was very much-loved.”

However, one thing about the physician, who was very busy, is he didn’t have a lot of time for people who were not seriously ill.

“He wouldn’t have anything to do with somebody who just had a headache,” she said. “You had to really need him, he wasn’t a fancy doctor who just came and held your hand.”

White’s daughter-in-law also remembered him as having an unusual sense of timing.

“This is typical of him, the day of Pearl Harbor the family had gone out to Dog Lake. We were having a picnic lunch and father came out about noon and sat around and then about three o’clock said: ‘Oh, by the way, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor today.’ So of course we packed everything up and rushed home.

“He just never thought we’d be interested.”

After sitting quietly for a moment or two, she added: “I missed him very much when he died. He was a bit like a father to me.”

What White is best remembered for in the early years was his tireless work in caring for those suffering from the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 which claimed millions of lives.

He was referred to as the “only doctor for miles around left on his feet.”

In 1909 ,White teamed up in practice with Dr. H. McGregor, a relationship that lasted three years.

“Then they had a fight and they never spoke to each other, or at least the wives never spoke to each other again until Mrs. McGregor had a (wedding) shower for me in 1937,” said Shirley.

Of the many honours the doctor received over the course of his lifetime, one of the most special was the Silver Jubilee Medal he was presented with in the mid-1930s by Col. Pragnall on behalf of King George VI.

Two Jubilee medals were actually presented that day, the first one to Chief Baptiste George in the ceremony which took place in the Oliver/Osoyoos area.

George was the first native Indian to receive the honour.

The medal to White was given “for long and faithful service to the state.”

For many years the First Nations people had called the doctor their “white brother,” but after the dual ceremony he was referred to as a “blood brother” of the chief.

Part of White’s reputation as the doctor who never refused a call came from the fact he regularly attended to sick or injured First Nations people at a time when some other physicians would not.

His other honours included being named Penticton’s first good citizen in 1948, having the Ellis Street R.B. White Medical Clinic and White Street named after him.

Just how well-liked the doctor was in Penticton and the rest of the Okanagan Valley became very evident following his death in May, 1950.

Paid their bills

Hundreds of people came to honour White, who died at Penticton General Hospital at the age of 76.

One of the most vivid recollections Shirley has of that time is of the people who came not only to pay their respects but also their medical bills.

“After he died, the people sent $5 and $10 dollars and $7.50 and so on to Mrs. White,” she said. “It was extraordinary. I mean, they had owed him for 20 years and when he died they sent the money.”

On the day of his funeral, May 4, 1950, downtown businesses closed their doors in a voluntary tribute to the man whose life had been spent devoted to caring for the members of his community. Funeral services took place at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church with Rev. Dennis Elsted officiating. White was buried at Lakeview Cemetery.

At the time of his death, he was the oldest practicing physician in the province and was one of the oldest coroners, not just in terms of age, but length of service as well.

His wife, the late Hester Emily White, lived for a number of years in a house on Skaha Lake beside Jack and Shirley after her husband passed away.

“That way we could keep eye on her, if you know what I mean,” said Shirley. “She was kind of touchy, but she did wonderful things for people who needed help in any way.

“Actually when it came to giving out citizenship awards and things they couldn’t make up their minds whether it was Dr. White or Mrs. White who they should give it to, so they gave it to them both. They were both so good in their various ways.”

Hester White, the oldest daughter of Judge J.C. Haynes, was born April 25, 1887, in Osoyoos and grew up with her three brothers and two sisters on their father’s large cattle ranch.

According to reports, the great events of the year for the family was the arrival of the pack train with supplies from the Hudson’s Bay post at Fort Hope and the family trips on horseback to the coast.

That week-long journey was led by First Nations guides and included a train of horses carrying the supplies and camping gear.

All that changed when she was 11. Her father became ill and died, and her mother took the children to Victoria and eventually to England, where they completed their education.

Hester was about 17 when they returned. Financial problems led to sale of the ranch and the family moved to Rock Creek.

A year later she married government agent C.A. Lambly in Spokane.

Before Lambly died of pneumonia, Hester gave birth to three children, two boys and a girl who died at an early age at the Vernon hospital where she had been taken for treatment.

After Hester’s first husband died, she and the boys went to live on the Lambly ranch in Peachland.

It was in 1908 that she married White, who had recently moved to Penticton.

The couple had two sons, W.H. (Bill) White and Shirley’s husband, Jack.

During her life here Hester was almost as busy as her husband in various community affairs and helping out wherever she could.

A charter member of the Women’s Institute and the premier chapter of the I.O.D.E. she was also on the school board and worked as a member of the children’s aid society.

Hester and other women in the community were also instrumental in establishing a badly-needed cottage hospital in Penticton.

The Okanagan Historical Society credits her “marvellous” memory of people and early events for the success of its annual reports.

When Hester died she was buried on a quiet hillside overlooking Osoyoos Lake beside her parents and brothers.

“They were two very special people in the lives of a lot of people,” said Shirley.

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