McKenzie, Robert

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                                   MCKENZIE ROBERT
                                 By Bonnie Sweeney


He enjoyed every day of his 50 years as a doctor, says Robert McKenzie. “I can’t imagine anyone going through life doing a job he didn’t like. That’s very sad. I have no regrets about medicine. I was happy all of my life in a small town practice,” he said.

That happiness and pride could be seen in his eyes as he recalled his days as a doctor. From time to time during an interview in his home in Nordin, he would burst out laughing as he remembered certain events.

He kept referring to his many, many friends. But the friends he was referring to weren’t those he socialized with or his neighbors. They were his patients. “I’ve never thought of them as patients, really. They’re friends, very good friends,” McKenzie said.

Having said this, he produced a huge photo album. In it were page after page of cards and letters congratulating him on his retirement on June 15.

He wrote a letter to each of his patients before he retired saying he would help them find a new doctor. The response was overwhelming. “I heard from about 90 per cent of them. I knew them as friends as well as patients. We had a good relationship with each other,” he added.

This was evident from the photographs he received from a group after a duck hunting trip.

He received all the cards and letters over a period of three months and the odd one is still arriving. Those who didn’t sent congratulations cards took the time to write a letter. Two letters, one from a 90-year-old and another from someone close to 100, caught his eye. “And this one is from Sterling Burchill. Look at the beautiful handwriting,” he said.

Leaving the work he loved so much wasn’t easy. “The last three months were very emotional ones for me,” he said as he glanced at photographs of a party held by staff members of the Newcastle Medical Clinic.

“Unfortunately, after my retirement, my health didn’t hold up,” he said. He is under regular medical treatment. One of the reasons he didn’t retire earlier was because he always kept his work and family life separate. His wife Nora took some messages for him at first. She often drove him somewhere when he was tired, but that was the extent of it.

He met Nora Madge while stationed in Edmonton, Alberta in 1941. He and two other doctors were doing medical examinations for recruits from the Prairies.

“We had small children and I made it a point of keeping the family away from my profession. It worked very well for us,” he said. He always made sure he took time off to get to know his kids. That’s not to say there weren’t family disruptions – they happened from time to time.

The McKenzies have two sons and one daughter. One son is an architect in Ottawa; the other is general manager of Credit Union Central in Moncton. The architect designed his parents’ modern, one storey home in Nordin. Their daughter lives in Truro, N.S. They have two grandchildren.

Because medicine took up so much of his time, this may have been why his children didn’t follow in his footsteps, he said.

Medicine did run in the family. His father, Dr. John B. McKenzie, died in the spring of 1945 and he returned home from the navy in the fall of that year.

He was the only boy in his family. He had two sisters. “I remember my sisters and I were cynical when things had to be cancelled. After a while, when a day was planned for all of us to go out, we didn’t really expect to. Our parents would say they were sorry, but something had to be cancelled. I guess maybe this carried over into my family too and they chose the work they did,” he said.

McKenzie didn’t really get to know his father until he was grown up. “He was gone so much and I never really got to know him until he was old and sick. I think he regretted that too. I didn’t want that for my family,” he said.

                         Early trips with father tough in storms

The life of a doctor has changed beyond comparison, says Doctor Robert B. McKenzie. He welcomes the many advances he has seen over the years and the coming of a new regional hospital. “The time has come when we can’t be on the outside looking in,” he said.

“My father and I both worked seven days a week. Sunday afternoons would be the time some patients would make their biannual visits to the doctor, especially if it was a nice day,” he joked. Today, doctors can take time off and on the Miramichi there are good back-up people for their patients, he said.

His earlier years were hard, but easier than his father’s, the late Dr. John B. McKenzie of Loggieville. His father had a horse and sleigh during the winter and a horse and wagon during the summer. His father had the first snowmobile in the area, then a second. Encountering problems, he gave them up in favor of the automobile. “They just became too much, too difficult to handle – the breaking down,” he said.

He remembers going with his father in the winter. He remembers one trip from his home in Loggieville to Richibucto. They left at 4 p.m. one day and arrived in Richibucto at 11 p.m. the next. The snowmobile broke down at St. Margaret’s on the way back and they had to be towed back home. And there were trips to Escuminac and Tabusintac – long, tiring trips.

His father always had three horses fed and ready to go. Since the roads weren’t plowed in winter, horses were the only way to go. “He would lend the horses out to farmers in the summer and this way they would trade off for feed. “I remember father going to Hardwicke. He went half way and got some people to take him the rest with another horse. He arrived unannounced at a house. In 15 minutes they would be ready to take him on,” McKenzie said. News spread quickly when someone was sick and needed a doctor, he added. There were many times the horses would get stuck in big snowdrifts. “Dozens of people would be out in no time, working very quickly. They would arrive with shovels and dig them out. “Remembering things like that, it seems like yesterday,” he said.

              When a person was sick, people for miles around were there to help, he said.

His busy practice over the years didn’t stop McKenzie from taking an active part in his community. He was an alderman of Newcastle for seven years and mayor in 1958 and 1959. From 1966 to 1984, he was appointed vice-consul representative for the Kingdom of Denmark. He and his wife made seven trips to Denmark during those years and visited other countries as well. He was also a port physician for about six years after the war and an active member of the Miramichi Golf and Country Club.

                                McKenzie follows footsteps of his father

Dr. Robert McKenzie of Nordin retired June 15 after practicing medicine for 50 years. The son of the late Dr. Joihn B. McKenzie of Loggieville, he “just seemed to fall into it,” he said.

There was a short period of time when he considered becoming a forester, but he just couldn’t see himself doing this for the rest of his life.

In his young years, he chummed around with the sons of Doctors – Charlie Duffy, Peter Losier and Frank Martin. “I learned a great deal from them,” he added.

McKenzie retired from his practice at the Newcastle Medical Clinic 50 years and 15 days after getting his medical degree from McGill University on May 30, 1940. “It would have been nice to retire on the anniversary, but it just didn’t work out,” he said.

He joined the Navy in 1941. He doctored at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal from 1940 to 1941. Then it was to the west coast and to sea in 1942. A surgeon lieutenant, he was transferred to a Newfoundland base hospital until 1944 and after that to Halifax until the end of the war.

There was little excitement for him as a navy doctor. “There were long periods of boredom with short periods of action,” he said.

He had moved to Newcastle with his family in 1937. “My father built me a home on King George Highway when I was overseas in 1942. We moved into that when I returned in 1945. In 1949, we remodeled it and built an office next to it,” he added.

He practiced at both the Miramichi Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital in Chatham upon returning. He and the other doctors made house calls. “We made house calls all over the country during those early years. Later there came the introduction of office practice, which we have today. It has changed completely,” he said.

              Dr. James Keays, now retired, came back from the war shortly after him.

“I was the first to come back here. People didn’t have automobiles and even if some did, they didn’t have the equipment – gas, tires. “Everything was rationed, and there was no way they could get to a doctor’s office anyway.”

Thinking back to those days, he sipped his coffee and looked out his picture window onto the Miramichi River and then continued. “It was difficult, very difficult in those days. A lot of country visits,” he added.

The medical profession has changed completely since Medicare came in – first there was hospitalization, but this still left the doctors to be paid. Medicare came in the late sixties. A hospital room then was $3 a day, but people didn’t have it, he said. “The economy of the country was different entirely than it is now.

“We made an all-out effort and I don’t think anyone suffered. The relationships among people were different in those days. Most had a good relationship with their doctors. “Doctors naturally wanted to get paid, but they knew who could and who couldn’t,” McKenzie said. He can’t remember anyone being denied medical attention for financial reasons. “That was one of the big things that didn’t apply. I think we had a good record,” he added.

Penicillin came out while he was posted in Newfoundland around 1943 and it was used sparingly. “It was brought over from England with escort vessels for protection. “Right after the war, quickly, it was in New Brunswick, first by the Department of Health upon application for the first year or so. “It was expensive. All antibiotics were expensive,” he said.

He saw all patients who wanted to come to him, never turning anyone away. There was a great deal of work to do when he and Dr. Keays first came to Newcastle. “We didn’t take new patients, we took all patients,” he joked. His three doctor friends in the service came back – Dr. Keays, Dr. Duffy and Dr. Percy Losier and that’s when the major things started getting done, he said.

“A lot had to be done here, major things that wouldn’t be done here today, but we had no choice. We often talked about the things we’d done and what happened. Maybe we were lucky, but I think our record turned out to be pretty good,” he said.

Certain events bring back a smile to McKenzie. “There was the time Keays delivered a baby in the back seat of a car, a brand new car,” he joked.


Source: Miramichi Leader – January 18, 1991

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