“Someone can take your practice; no one can take your place!”

Column 126


When John Beecroft took over Dr Art Doidge’s medical practice at Wellington Medical Group in 1972, he stepped into the new world of family medicine. One of the first graduates in the family medicine specialty at Western’s Medical School, Dr John Beecroft was certified in the college of family practice, treating family medicine as a specialty.

He was the second family practice specialist in the medical group.

On June 30, 42 years later, John Beecroft left the same office, surrounded and blessed by over 400 patients who came out to tell him how much he mattered in their lives. They brought cards; they brought butter tarts; they signed a huge banner hung for the occasion; they waited for a long time to hug the man who had cared for generations of their families. They came to say thanks.

The day after his ‘retirement reception’ he made his house calls to all the long term care facilities where he still sees patients. He needed to explain to them personally that he was retiring. Two days later he sat at his office while his medical equipment, his furniture, the tools of his trade were carried out the door. He has sorted through literally thousands of files, retaining the ones he is mandated to care for, shredding those he can let go. Retirement isn’t instant.

“You are the only male role model I’ve had in my life.”

And John looks back at nearly half a century of medical care, where his specialty was the whole family. “I was attracted to family medicine because there were a lot of doctors in general practice who weren’t prepared for a lot of the issues that come up… emotional psychological, obstetrics. The idea of family medicine appealed to me. I chose to specialize on the family.”

In the beginning, John Beecroft’s practice was young; there were lots of births and not so many deaths. And those early births are now grandparents and John is more frequently at the bedside of a patient who is dying. It’s the full life cycle.

“You were standing beside me when my husband died.”

In 1972, when John started work in Barrie, the town’s 40 doctors did everything. Referrals happened mostly in the staff room at the hospital. There were no fax requisitions! Doctors did their shifts in Emergency, and most of them did obstetrics–the joy of birth–which causes real challenge in managing a practice. John did baby deliveries for 30 years–well over 2000 babies–when the challenge of doing one or two deliveries in the middle of the night began to interfere with his sharpness during the day. It was time to turn deliveries over to someone else.

He looks back over the number of really incredible nurses that managed his practice of over 3000 patients–and often managed him–First being Peggy Ferrari, then Gayle Kirk, Joanne McDonald, Jane Lynch, so many professionals who made up the Beecroft team.

“In the first 20 years there were no CT scans, no MRIs… diagnosing has changed so much. Old indicators give way to new tests, processes that didn’t exist,” says John.

Medical life in Barrie has changed with our population increase, the development of our hospital as a regional medical centre. New processes have doctors who work only in the hospital; John gave up his hospital privileges five years ago. “The biggest change is in radiology, going from nothing except xrays to nuclear scans to ultra sound to catscans, to MRIs. Interventional radiology offers a whole host of better ways of imaging people, much more accurate. But instinct is a constant companion for a doctor.

A couple married over 60 years, both with their walkers, came to say goodbye

“Last summer it was pretty clear that one more year would be it. At age 70 he said he was ready,” says his wife, Roberta. “And when Dr Jan Scheeres approached him about his practice, it relieved him of the pressure of finding a replacement. That was such a bonus. He set the date… June 30, 2014.”

He might have set the date, but nothing could have prepared him for the emotion that greeted him when so many people came out to celebrate his work.

“It’s going to be sad for sure,” says John. “But it’s time to spend more time with Roberta and our kids and grandkids. Activities? I’m a once a year golfer, usually with a couple of friends. I love birds. I love to ski and I enjoy time at the cottage, and I love to read. I don’t have the energy to keep up the pace and I don’t have the ability to say ‘no’ to people.”

Those who know John Beecroft well know that he’s quiet; he’s funny; he’s committed and he says very little about what he does. My own association with John, as a friend, is frozen in this vignettes. A man, alone, late at night, standing in the back yard, flooding the skating rink for his three sons. Quiet. Solitary. Dad.

Thanks, John.