Dr. Harold Jackson “Jack” Pickup has achieved almost mythical status as “The Flying Doctor” since his death in 1992.
Comox Valley author Marilyn Crosbie, a former resident of Sointula, has painted a much more down-to-earth portrait of one of the foremost pioneers of medicine along the B.C. Coast in her book, Memories of Jack Pickup — Flying Doctor of British Columbia.
Crosbie is not a professional author or researcher, but writes from the perspective of a newly arrived young patient whose children were delivered by the man she obviously came to know quite well over the ensuing decades.
The book is not a factual biography of Pickup, but rather a memoir told from Crosbie’s perspective — a conscious choice she describes in the introduction.
Crosbie’s approach leaves gaps in the historical record as it pertains to Pickup’s life and career, but provides a rich and textured look back, through anecdotes and remembrances, on what life was like for North Islanders before they were connected to the rest of Vancouver Island by road and before each community had its own staffed hospital or clinic.
The story is as much about her own somewhat reluctant stay in Sointula from 1970 through 1990 as it is about Pickup. But to Crosbie’s credit it is liberally sprinkled with interviews from friends, co-workers and professional counterparts of the doctor, who was almost single-handedly responsible for care of patients across thousands of square kilometres of Coastal B.C. from his arrival in Alert Bay in 1949.
Memories of Jack Pickup also includes a number of archival photos drawn from a variety of sources, including a few photos snapped by the author herself.
Crosbie was well-prepared for this project, having contemplated the book since 1974, when she approached a surprised Pickup about the idea before being told some weeks later that his wife was uncomfortable with the idea.
Despite the rebuff, Crosbie began even then to compile a record of clippings and letters related to Pickup’s work, not only as the North Island’s “Flying Doctor” but as a teacher, Alert Bay’s Mayor, a skilled classical and jazz pianist and dry wit whose behaviour occasionally bordered on curmudgeonly.
For Crosbie, who had recently lost her father at the time of her arrival in Sointula, Pickup seems to have become something of a surrogate father-figure. But Memories of Jack Pickup is not a starry-eyed paean from a fan; Crosbie is clearly impressed with Pickup’s medical skills and ability to juggle the myriad responsibilities he faced, while describing exasperation with his views and behaviour on some occasions.
She also does not shy away from the 1979-80 inquest into the death of Renee Smith of complications from appendicitis, a case which resulted in Pickup being allowed to continue to practice medicine while simultaneously curtailing and placing restrictions on his pre-inquest workload and freedom.
No story about Pickup’s life would be complete without flying anecdotes, and Crosbie supplies several through the voices of interviewees. She relies on other voices, including those from his lively retirement party in Alert Bay and somewhat more somber memorial service, to round out the tale.
For local readers, the book may hold interest in the inclusion of remarks from a number of people who knew Pickup and who still work and/or live in the area. While not a comprehensive story on the life of the Flying Doctor, Crosbie’s book is a colourful and informative snapshot of North Vancouver Island History.
Memories of Jack Pickup; Flying Doctor of British Columbia is published by RDM Publications of Courtenay. It is available on the North Island at Port Hardy Museum, at Campbell River Museum, and at the author’s website at www.marilyn-crosbie.com.