DUNCAN JOHN GILLESPIE
December 14, 1932 – February 26, 2021
Dr Duncan John Gillespie passed away peacefully on February 26, 2021 at River Ridge II retirement home. He was loved and cherished by many. To say that he was a character, and a bit of an enigma, may not fully describe who he was as a husband, father, grandpa, brother, doctor, colleague, and friend.
Duncan was born in the town of Red Willow, Alberta and raised in Stettler, Alberta. Born during the height of the depression he and his siblings learned to work hard from a very early age. He rarely talked about his childhood, but one story comes to mind. By the time he was a teenager, his days were full of part time work, school, and helping to support his family. He once revealed that he would rise before 5 am, work a part-time job before school, and a part-time job after school and then a third job on the weekend. He was 14 years old. He had many jobs before he was 14 but this strenuous day at the age of 14 seems to have set him up for the often-gruelling work schedule he lived as a surgeon.
But his work ethic belies a mischievous side of our dad. He was a character. From his love of the hottest curry known to humanity, as well as any kind of sweets and his penchant for fresh baking, his quirks shone through his quiet demeanor when you were least expecting it. There is the time he was skating with his young daughters in the dead of winter while chewing toffee. Apparently frozen toffee makes your teeth stick together. Or when he and his friend Ivan Pakiam took to the kitchen to whip up some hot, hot curry; not a pan or utensil was spared the carnage. Back in the day he hosted many parties serving his signature chicken curry dish.
Incidentally, his four-legged family members also acquired ‘sweet teeth’. He always made sure they had their favourite jam on a tiny piece of toast as they shared their breakfast with mom and dad on or near the kitchen table. There is an image of a cat sitting in the Kleenex box keeping watch over the breakfast proceedings, while the family dog sat at their feet waiting for the next tiny morsel of toast….with the correct jam of course.
Dad had many interests. His music tastes reflected his rather eclectic nature. His mixed tapes (from the 80s) paired Elvis with Pavarotti and Willie Nelson with Nana Mouskouri. He truly was a character. He seemed to acquire, cache, and disclose once or twice in his life a range of skills and talents that if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss witnessing them. For example, the spin on his tennis serve was remarkable, as were his hockey skills. He could shoot a mean game of pool and he was quite a good craftsman, building a toy chest for his younger son, and a cradle for his youngest daughter. Further, his one-year sabbatical in the UK revealed a latent talent for photography. Many of his framed landscape photos adorned our parents’ home for many years since their return from Europe.
However, some skills may have been misplaced. The first camping trip of each season, meant devoting at least an hour to untying numerous surgical knots from every tent, sleeping bag, hammock, etc. Essentially, any strings or ropes dad could find were destined for surgical knots. Eventually, he was ‘reposted’ to kitchen duties on our camping trips.
Dad had many jobs prior to medical school including working as a CP ‘cop’ on the rail lines, teaching high school, working as a water quality technician, and working as a builder and construction worker to name a few. One of his many experiences was working on the DEW Line in the far north. To provide some comfort-in-a-bottle for his frozen compatriots, dad fashioned a makeshift still. Not sure how it went exactly, but he did reveal that his workmates felt compelled to shave his head bald after sampling his wares.
Dad had an immense vocabulary. Pre-internet, it proved very helpful to have a small, discrete dictionary nearby, just in case. But he could also swear like a trooper at a misplay in a hockey game and then recite Robbie Burns during the commercials. ‘Give me the gift, the gift do give me, that I may see myself as others see me’. That was a good one.
Dad had a very caring heart which showed during his long career as a surgeon. He simply loved every aspect of his work. It is hard to say how many people he helped over his 30+ year career but we were lucky to hear from many former patients who always expressed their gratitude for his hard work and his compassion. After he retired, mom mentioned that he sometimes cried about patients that he could not save.
Dad was an excellent surgeon and he loved passing on his knowledge. He was a born teacher and before he taught surgery to medical residents, he also taught high school at a small school in Oak Lake, MB. He often said that if he didn’t go into medicine, he would have been a teacher.
Surgeon, teacher, craftsman, photographer, dad was all of these things and more. Our mom was his high school sweetheart, and we know he is now cooking curry and swearing at the Jets with her by his side. He is survived by his children Stella, Ingrid (Ed), Michael (Laurie), Dianne (Evan), Brian (Wanda) as well as 7 grandchildren, 3 great grand-children, siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews.
We wish to thank all who helped care for our dad over the years: all of the staff at Wright 1 Care for their enduring companionship and compassion, Dr Saunders for his care and advice throughout the years, River Ridge staff, including Lori, Laura, Kim, Cydnee, and Dr Jerimello for their care and support in his final days, Palliative Care for their fantastic support ensuring his final days were comfortable and peaceful, Margie and Gina for their support over the years, and to his many friends and colleagues who visited and called him over the years. He loved seeing you and hearing from you. In lieu of flowers please send donations to Winnipeg’s Salvation Army. Dad often mentioned the good work of the Sally Ann.
A ceremony celebrating our dad’s amazing life will be held in Winnipeg in the summer of 2021. In the meantime, Duncan's family kindly requests that all of his friends and relatives take a few minutes to honour his memory by watching the photo-biography above. Please, also consider sharing your own photos, memories, and stories by making use of the comment section on this page.
Memories, Stories and Condolences
Please share a story, photo, memory or condolences for the family by completing the form below and click "comment".