Dr. R.E.M. Lee passes away

A COMMUNITY-MINDED man who helped bring better medical care and music to Terrace has passed away.

DR. R.E.M. Lee

A COMMUNITY-MINDED man who helped bring better medical care and music here has passed away.

Dr. Robert (Ted) Edmund Musgrave Lee died Jan. 8 in Victoria.

Dr. Geoff Appleton, who works part-time in general practice here and is the Northwest Medical Director for Northern Health, knew Lee very well.

Lee was already here working as a general surgeon when Appleton came here in 1972.

Appleton, who lived three doors down from Lee, worked with Lee until his retirement in 1987.

“From a physician’s point of view, [he was] a very generous person who loved to teach, who loved to impart his wisdom,” said Appleton.

“If you lived back in those days, a lot of the time he was on his own or working with another surgeon,” he said, adding Lee’s working partner was Dr. Donald Strangway.

Lee did a lot more surgery than surgeons do today so Appleton commonly assisted him in the operating room.

“Back in those days, they were taught to do everything so there was not as much sub-specialization. He would do general and some orthopedic surgery, fixing fractured hips and lots of other fractures.

“I remember on one famous occasion he did a bit of brain surgery. I was with him at the time when a rugby player got internal bleeding in the head and he did burr holes to let the pressure off and the guy survived,” said Appleton.

“Without CAT scans, he just made the diagnosis and basically drilled holes in this guy’s head and saved his life. He (the rugby player) was transferred to St. Paul’s [in Vancouver] and the people there said he’d be dead if there had been any further delay,” he said.

Surgeons who worked with Lee said he was “just a master at surgery,” said Appleton.

“He had true surgeon’s fingers. He was a big guy, I think about six-foot-four, and he had extremely delicate hands,” he said, adding Lee also did abdominal surgery, vascular surgery and even some back surgery.

Lee would say he wanted to keep his hand in various types of surgeries so he could do them if necessary.

Off the job, Lee was a very generous person keen on teaching and education.

He devoted a lot of his spare time to the school board, arts and was very instrumental in lobbying for a community theatre which now bears his name.

Lee helped spearhead the group to set up the Dr. R.E.M. Lee Foundation to raise money to buy specialized equipment for Mills Memorial Hospital. Its first project was to raise money for a CT scanner.

Without specialized equipment, Lee said it would be difficult to encourage doctors to come up here, said foundation honourary board member Helene McRae.

The Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation was formed in 1988 and since then has raised more than $2 million.

Born in Winnipeg in 1927, Lee spent his childhood in the farming community of Gilbert Plains, Manitoba.

After high school, he went on to the University of Manitoba where he completed medical school. Working as an intern in Portage la Prairie one summer, Lee met Thelma and they were married in 1952.

Ted practised medicine in Saskatchewan and Manitoba before bringing his family to Terrace in 1956, when the city was a rugged up and coming forestry town.

He returned to the University of Manitoba to specialize in surgery, returning to Terrace as a general surgeon.

Many a time he was woken in the night to tend to an emergency and family outings were often preceded with a house call while mom, four kids and the family Saint Bernard waited in the station wagon, said his family.

He was also dedicated to bringing and maintaining Mills Memorial Hospital to the highest of standards.

He served on the school board for many years, ultimately as chairman.

While on the school board, Lee made sure a band program was created.

He was also on the committee that laid the foundation for the Northwest Community College.

Early on, he was part of a group that brought classical music concerts to Terrace. For his contribution to the school board and music in the area, the theatre was named in his honour.

As for hobbies, Lee, though a prairie boy, had a passion for the sea and taught himself to sail.

He later had a small cabin cruiser that he navigated to Kitimat from Vancouver and where the family enjoyed many Sunday afternoons on the Douglas Channel.

Although he had intended to stay here only two or three years, Lee remained here until his retirement in 1987. He and his wife moved to Victoria where he worked as a medical consultant for the Workers’ Compensation Board for five years, then he retired for good.

A celebration of Lee’s life will take place in the spring here. A private family ceremony will take place to scatter his ashes at sea.