Brian Williams: poster boy for how to live

When Brian Williams passed away two weeks ago, his many communities stopped, awed that this man who so enjoyed contemplative silence, would no longer make a sound in this world.

Doctor… passionate caregiver to his hundreds of patients. Sports Enthusiast… delighted runner, paddler, hiker, biker, squash player Father… committed, quietly intense Husband… to Regina Reader… and commentator, and contemplator of the magic of words Brother and Son. Teacher to many younger doctors who arrived to call Barrie home.

Dr. Brian Williams was a stickler for details, and according to his medical colleague and sports companion, Dr. Brian Morris. He’d spend long, contemplation during a hike in the woods. Silence was his friend.

The son of a doctor, Brian graduated from University of Toronto Medical School in 1965. He experienced several medical specialties before choosing on family practice and settling in Barrie 35 years ago. He joined the Wellington Medical Group along with other young doctors, John Beecroft, Rick Irvin, Dan Ozimuk, Ross Van Volkenburg… young guys just starting out, all jammed into small quarters at the Wellington Medical building.

Brian retired from Wellington Medical Group five years ago, the completion of a long medical association. It was during his own physical prior to taking on work at Baxter Labs that he received the surprise diagnosis of cancer. He went through chemotherapy and lived the life of so many cancer patients… gripping firmly that which was his… time.

That was five years ago.

Brian refused to be sidelined after his treatment and continued to travel, spend time with friends, and push his body to its physical limit, whether on two wheels, two feet, or with two hands. He and Regina spent as much time as possible at their beloved cottage in Muskoka. It was during ‘training’ for a group hike in Spain last September that Brian, troubled with balance, was tripped up by cancer in his brain.

In 60 days, he was gone. Fifty of those days were spent at the family cottage and Brian died the way he lived… warm, direct, with vigour, clarity and intelligence. He appreciated the love showered by his kids, Craig, Carrie and Jonell. He stayed connected with his sisters Jane and and Nancy. And his friend sat at his side, quietly connecting with their space in the world with Brian.

It is a fitting tribute that Brian directed funds to both Doctors Without Borders and the Muskoka SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). He embraced the philosophy and commitment of Doctors Without Borders. And he embraced, late in life, the love of a dog, an adoring, devoted dog, Kyla, that he got from the Muskoka SPCA.

Brian’s various communities comment on the same thing: his intense ability to live outside the norm of seeing and experiencing things. Full of thought, he would look at anything–political event, medical happening–as a whole. He’d see the big picture. His perspective always surprised and challenged those close to him.

It seems odd to listen to Dr. Brian Morris or Dr. Fred Smith (the young guys–a few years ago) ³alot of the younger docs in town kdidn¹t know Brian at all. At his memorial, one of the specialists said Brian¹s referrals were always different. Brian would send a letter about his patient. Then he¹d follow up and ask what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He¹d challenge the specialist on his plan of management. He raised the bar in expectation.²

Brian was a good teacher, a humble man who never held professorial rank. He just taught as part of his life. He taught younger doctors who arrived for medical practica. Young doctors got a lot out of Odoing time with Brian.¹

Dr. Brian Morris calls Brian Williams a ‘back row’ leader. He wouldn’t be standing up in the front stomping his feet. He’d quietly from the back row say, “we should do this, we should do that.” He was an excellent, knowledgeable, up to date, caring physician.

Dr. Fred Smith calls Brian a poster boy for dealing with illness and adversity and the ultimate catastrophic fatal illness. “I heard him say he could either whine or suck it up.” says Smith. He decided he was going to suck it up. He lived out his final hours like he lived his life. Two weeks before he died, they moved down from the cottage to their home on Blake St.”

Brian Williams had categories of friends. The book friends. The sport friends. The doctor friends. The family friends. He was intensely private. He was quiet. He listened more than he spoke. He gave more than he took. He touched his patients with his heart.

In fact, Brian lived with his heart, tending more to the stories than the science of medicine. He lived well. And that’s about the best any of us can do.

Thanks, Brian.