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Show of respect

Hundreds attend memorial for Dr. Bert Kelly
Joanna Kelly speaks at her father Dr. Bert Kelly’s Celebration of Life on Friday at the Prince George Civic Centre. Dr. Kelly, a longtime advocate for healthcare in the north, passed away on Dec. 12. – Citizen photo by Brent Braaten

An estimated 700 former patients, physicians, medical professionals and friends gathered at the Prince George Civic Centre Friday evening to commemorate the life of a key leader in northern B.C.'s fight for healthcare.

Albert Scott Kelly, better known to patients as Dr. Kelly, lived most of his adult life as a family physician in the north. As speaker after speaker recounted, Kelly played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Northern Medical Program at UNBC and the establishment of the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North. He was perhaps the most well known political advocate for medical services in northern B.C. Kelly passed away Dec. 12, 2017.

Granville Johnston, who was a patient of Dr. Kelly's for almost 25 years, drove in with his wife from Sinclair Mills to attend the memorial event. He remained a patient of Kelly's after moving away from Prince George years ago, and continued to make the hour-long drive for appointments. Johnston said it was Kelly's unique manner as a physician that endeared him to so many people.

"He made people feel like they were a friend, rather than a patient and a doctor," Johnston said.

"That feeling was instilled in everything he did as a doctor when he was training."

Devan Reddy, a family physician who had known Kelly for 10 years, said Kelly's bedside manner was different from the fast-paced, digital style of medicine that has become common in some busy practices.

"He had a way of intermingling the fast-paced activity and at the same time coming across as being a friend. Now that's a skill set you can't teach at medical school," Reddy said.

"So he was not just an amazing physician, but he was also a humble, inspiring human being."

The evening memorial opened with a bagpipe procession, a nod to Kelly's background as an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland. Speakers at the memorial included Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich, NMP founder Geoff Payne, NMP dean Paul Winwood and Kelly's daughter Joanna Kelly.

Bond affectionately referred to Kelly as a 'pebble in my shoe,' a reference to her being the subject of his persistent political advocacy. Kelly would often deliver a speech, known as the 'Kelly report,' at the annual Bob Ewert Memorial Dinner, a fundraising event for the Northern Medical Programs Trust. Kelly would outline both the achievements and the shortcomings of local politicians when it came to medical needs in the north.

"I admit that I was always filled with fear and trepidation prior to receiving the report. But as I reflect on my relationship with Bert Kelly, I can tell you today that I am grateful for the lessons I have learned," Bond said in a speech.

Kelly played a significant role, along with many members of the community in Prince George, in organizing a storied rally of 6,000 residents at CN Centre in June of 2000. The rally aided in bringing about a $10 million dollar health services agreement with the then-NDP government, and provided momentum for the eventual establishment of the Northern Medical Program.

Aside from Kelly's role as a community activist and agitator, he was also remembered as a medical teacher and mentor.

Taya O'Neill studied under Kelly as a first-year student, and later graduated from the Northern Medical Program. She remembered that Kelly would often lead student discussions of patient care and political advocacy over brunch at Nancy O's restaurant on Third Ave.

"It didn't matter if you had an exam coming up, or had just got off a sleepless on-call shift. You made it to those brunches because you knew he would inspire you, and that your passion for healthcare would be refueled," O'Neill said.

Friends and colleagues have established a legacy fund in Bert Kelly's name to support health education in northern B.C. Those interested in donating, or in finding out more about this fund, can visit or call 250-562-7772.