Dr. William Barakett, who died of cancer last month at the age of 74, practised medicine in the Eastern Townships of Quebec for almost 50 years. He was a country doctor with a difference. Along with running a private practice, he was an expert in alcohol and drug addiction; he also devoted time to running and raising money for the Brome Missisquoi Perkins Hospital in Cowansville, Que.
Most of all Dr. Barakett was a general practitioner who saw patients every day, the medical connection for as many as 3,000 people in and around Knowlton, Que., where he lived and practised.
“Bill was super supportive when I had prostate cancer, and followed up when it was needed,” said Paul Harrison, a friend and patient, who had two bouts of the disease. “Bill was always attentive to my needs, psychologically and physically. You couldn’t ask for a better friend. It’s a pity so many of us are still walking around when he couldn’t be saved.”
William John Barakett was born in Trois-Rivières on May 11, 1945. His father, Ellya, was a Lebanese immigrant; his mother, Rose, was born in Montreal to Lebanese parents. Bill struggled in school until his parents discovered that that he needed glasses. From then on, he shone. He studied medicine at McGill University, and after graduating, wanted to study internal medicine at the University of British Columbia. But he broke his leg skiing and in 1972 took a part-time job at a clinic in Cowansville.
“He loved it. He found he could do so many different things in a small country practice that he couldn’t do in a big city,” his wife, Janie Barakett, said.
As a young doctor, Bill Barakett took an interest in addiction, first by observing meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. He started treating people with addictions, first alcohol, then drugs and of late, opioids in particular. People trusted him.
“Bill didn’t judge people. He understood that early on,” Ms. Barakett said. “The phone would ring in the middle of the night, and he would stay up and talk to them.”
Dr. Barakett was the medical director of the Brome Missisquoi Perkins Hospital (known locally as the BMP) for 25 years and was president of its foundation. He was a tireless fundraiser for the hospital, raising millions, according to the hospital’s foundation. He was also president and chairman of the board of the Butters Foundation, for people with intellectual disabilities, from 2001 until his death. In recent years he was medical adviser to Dunham House, a treatment facility in West Brome.
“Bill was passionate about helping people with the sort of mental-health issues the residents have,” said Daniel Colson, president and founder of Dunham House. “He took a huge personal interest. … One of the residents was crying in the parking lot when he heard Bill had died.”
Dr. Barakett was the driving force behind the establishment of a medical clinic in Knowlton, which meant residents did not have to travel 14 kilometres to the emergency room in Cowansville.
He was so dedicated that many years he and Janie would be at the hospital visiting patients on Christmas Day. Since 1978, Dr. Barakett and his family lived in a house in Knowlton on the same street as the clinic he helped found.
His experience was valuable to other GPs, and for several years he was vice-president of the Quebec General Practitioners Federation.
When the French-language newsmagazine L’actualité did a profile on Quebec’s health system in December of 1998, Dr. Barakett was on the cover. He was one of five doctors profiled.
The article described how Dr. Barakett got up at 5:30 a.m., was at the hospital in Cowansville by 7 a.m. and later returned to the clinic in Knowlton to see patients as well. In the article, he described how he managed to see more patients in a day: “I learned to ask questions to patients as they undressed,” Dr. Barakett said.
The clinic in Knowlton had six doctors at the end of last year, but two retirements and Dr. Barakett’s death have brought that number down to three.
“William Barakett knew his science: medicine. He was passionate about his work and passed that passion on to future generations of doctors. Hundreds of medical students and residents were fortunate to have learned under him and benefited from his incredible experience,” Dr. Dominique Désy said at his funeral, referring to his work as a, assistant professor at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. "We, his colleagues at the clinic, were the lucky ones. We had a front seat of the class of professor Bill.”
Dr. Barakett was a founding member of Quebec’s Physicians Assistance Program. If a doctor was having trouble, medical problems or stress, he or she could see a doctor in confidence. It meant a doctor could get help without jeopardizing his or her career.
Dr. Barakett was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2002. The citation said in part: “William Barakett is known as a family doctor who goes beyond the call of duty. … A former leader in numerous professional organizations, he is a model of dedication and caring for young general practitioners.”
Dr. Barakett died in Cowansville at the BMP on Aug. 26. He leaves his wife, Janie; children, Elise and David; granddaughter, Addison; and sister Joyce. He was predeceased by his brother, Lawrence, and sister Nita.