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Globe-trotting MD calls Prince George home

Dr. Carolyn McGhee and the late Dr. Jack McGhee arrived in Prince George in 1966. Here is their brief history. Carolyn (Meetham) McGhee, one of two children, was born in 1938 in Leicester, England.
Dr. Carolyn McGhee, longtime resident of Prince George along with her late husband, Jack, spent many years as physicians caring for members of the community.

Dr. Carolyn McGhee and the late Dr. Jack McGhee arrived in Prince George in 1966. Here is their brief history.

Carolyn (Meetham) McGhee, one of two children, was born in 1938 in Leicester, England. Carolyn and her brother Richard grew up in Teddington, a backwater suburb of London.

Her father, Dr A.R. Meetham, was a physicist who, among other projects, researched air pollutants to find out what happens to pollution (created in the city) as it moves out to the countryside. The main cause of air pollution back then was the burning of coal in industry, power stations and home heating. He wrote a book and an important government white paper about it. Twenty years later the government of the day passed the 1956 Clean Air Act in response to the deadly smog known as the pea souper that took the lives of many people.

After finishing high school, Carolyn went to the Royal Free Hospital in London to study medicine; she graduated in 1962.

In 1963, Carolyn was working as a house surgeon in the general hospital in Nottingham when she met Jack (John James) McGhee; Jack was a surgical resident and her immediate superior.

Jack was born in Princeton, B.C. in 1931. His parents Tommy and Molly McGhee had emigrated to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland. His father worked in the boiler room of the Cominco smelter in Trail until he retired.

Carolyn explained, "Jack and his brother Gordon both trained in medicine at the University of B.C. Jack was in the third class and graduated in 1956. After graduation he and six friends worked until they had saved money enough to go to Europe with a plan to do as much skiing as possible.

"After one year five of them went back to Canada, but Jack stayed on and trained as a surgeon. He studied for the Fellowships and took them in Edinburgh and London."

Carolyn and Jack were married in 1964. The following year they boarded the Empress of Canada ocean liner and five days later they docked in Quebec.

They bought a car and some camping equipment and started one of their many traveling excursions. They traveled down through Maine, Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and eventually they headed north to Winnipeg, visiting friends along the way.

They traveled through the prairies heading west to the national parks. It was early June when they got snow on their tent at Bow Lake in the Banff National Park. This was a new experience for Carolyn who remembers the pain of pulling out frozen metal tent pegs.

They survived the snow and the next day they arrived in the scenic Dry Gulch Provincial Park and experienced contrasting hot and dry weather conditions from the day before.

They arrived in Trail and Carolyn met her new in-laws.

They moved on to Vancouver where Jack studied to take his College of Physicians and Surgeons Canadian Certification. Carolyn worked as an assistant resident in pediatrics at the Health Centre for Children.

Carolyn laughed and said, "I was the bread winner for a period of one year.

"Vancouver was not for either one of us. On my weekends off we would visit many of Jack's fellow medical students who had settled in small towns in B.C.; not one of them were interested in a specialist general surgeon coming to their town.

"He contacted Dr. Bob Ewert, the first specialist in general surgery in Prince George. We came to see Bob, and he asked Jack how soon he could start. He was snowed under with work.

"I am proud to say that Jack became well known, not only for his surgical acumen from 1966 to 1996 but also as a skilled and keen skier, mountaineer, fisherman, beekeeper, photographer and naturalist."

Dr. Jack McGhee was inducted into the Northern Medical Hall of Fame by the Northern Medical Society in 2007.

Meanwhile, Carolyn was having babies and working as a family physician as much as possible. Child care was a problem so she would do locums and work in the place of a regular physician when that physician went on a holiday. She was the only female family physician in the city at the time.

When their first child (Alexandra Jane) was three months old Carolyn was invited to a meeting with the local chapter of the Cerebral Palsy Association. The parents of children with this permanent movement disorder explained the need for their child to attend a preschool that included physiotherapy to help prepare these children for school.

Encouraged by Frances Lamont, the executive director of the provincial Cerebral Palsy Association Carolyn helped to form a board of directors. The board appointed Monica Williams as the program director and Anne Martin took over as the executive director.

Carolyn said, "It was Anne Martin who founded the Child Development Centre as a pilot project in 1968 with four students. Two major building programs followed and the centre employed more therapists and specialized early childhood educators as needed."

Carolyn was employed at the CDC for 25 years. Her retirement in 1992 was triggered by the sudden death of her disabled brother Richard in a house fire in England.

In 1993, Carolyn was hired as the first medical director of the Central Interior Native Health Society, a position she enjoyed very much for two years.

Jack and Carolyn had three children: Alexandra Jane who is a medical office assistant and Rachel who is a physician. Both live in Prince George. Their son Dougal a journeyman carpenter is married to Kirsten who is a lawyer; they live in Victoria and have two children.

"We traveled extensively," said Carolyn "and sometimes volunteered our services as doctors in such places as Belize, Domenica, Papua New Guinea and Somalia.

"Being keen naturalists and bird watchers, we went to many exotic places looking for these colorful creatures. Our three children often went with us.

"We went trekking in Nepal three times and when we retired in 1996 we traveled to India for seven weeks. There were many trips to London and Europe."

Carolyn's many hobbies and interests include beekeeping, gardening, knitting and reading. After Jack died of cancer in 2006m she volunteered as a gardener in the David Douglas Botanical Garden at UNBC.

She has been a volunteer musician in the Prince George Symphony Orchestra since the early 70s and studies the viola with concertmaster José Delgado-Guevara.

Carolyn concluded by saying, "Prince George has been a wonderful place to live. I loved the crisp clear winter days and the welcoming medical people from the moment that we arrived here.

"I still live in the house we bought 50 years ago on the edge of the bush and just 15 minutes from anywhere in town. I have been so lucky. In my opinion the only thing that would make Prince George even better is a proper performing arts centre."