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William Alexander James
William Alexander James

Lives Lived: William Alexander James, 80 Add to ...

Physician, husband, grandfather, gardener. Born on April 14, 1936, in Balderson, Ont.; died on June 15, 2016 in Cobourg, Ont., of pulmonary fibrosis, aged 80.

Born in an upstairs bedroom on the family dairy farm in Lanark County, Bill grew up an only child. His early education was in a one-room school house where the day began with a hand-rung bell. Years later, always a sentimentalist, Bill went to an auction and bought the original bell the teacher had kept on her desk.

Bill had to decide at a young age whether he would take over the farm, because his father had heart trouble, or fulfill his own dream of becoming a doctor. He chose medicine, the farm was sold and the family moved to nearby Perth. Times were tough after the end of the Second World War; to make ends meet his mother took in boarders and his dad worked as a night watchman at a shoe factory.

In 1961 Bill graduated from medical school at Queen’s University in Kingston. He specialized in anesthesia and went on to work at Toronto East General Hospital for 40 years. Twice married, Bill had one son and three daughters, and was so proud of all of them.

The boy left the farm, but the farm never left him. Bill maintained a large garden for many years, growing apples, cherries, plums, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks and much more. He made the best home-made jam, pickles and baked beans. Seemingly oblivious to the human body clock, his family would often find him making preserves late at night or early in the morning before heading to the hospital.

He made up for the lean Christmases of his youth (when an orange was a treat) by creating the biggest, best Christmas Day for his kids. Often a joker, he was behind many a tiny gift wrapped in a massive box. He loved spending time with his children at the family cottage at Maple Lake in Haliburton. Although never comfortable swimming, he donned a life jacket and taught himself to sail. He taught the kids how to fish, canoe, identify birds, make bonfires, and appreciate a great sunset.

Although he was dealt more than his share of challenges, including his first wife’s tragic and debilitating mental illness, Bill stayed true to the values by which he was raised. Like his father, he ensured his children received the education they needed to pursue their dreams. When he was no longer able to travel he was still interested in the plans of his children and six grandchildren, offering suggestions about where to go or what to do (even if he hadn’t travelled to the place himself, but had read about it somewhere). He never caught on to the Internet; he valued the feel of a real book or newspaper in his hands.

He retired from the hospital in 2006, and later suffered from progressive illness that limited his mobility and prevented him from doing many things he previously enjoyed. Age and illness were not, however, sufficient reasons to give up his rum.

A man of few words, our Dad was gentle and thoughtful. He never stopped thinking of ways to contribute to his children’s lives, setting an example of how to manage through tough times without complaint. It gives us comfort to know that he felt he had a “long run” and understood how much he was loved.

Jenny and Bill James are Bill’s children.

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