Obituary: Dr. John Robert Munro
Dedicated family doctor, gifted gardener, Canadian WWII veteran
Dr. John Robert Munro died peacefully at his residence at the Claremont Manor Retirement Community on January 20, surrounded by family. He was 98.
Born in Prince George, British Columbia on July 8, 1923, to Myrtle Evangeline Ruttan and James John Alexander Munro, John and his four siblings spent much of their youth in the small prairie town of Strome, Alberta. He applied himself to his studies, and even more so to hockey, and worked at his father’s small general store after school. He learned the value of a dollar when one lean year his father told him he was unsure he could afford the one dollar per child annual fee for the five children to skate at the rink, an unthinkable prospect thankfully averted.
A high point of his high school days was winning a $100 prize in a multi-province essay contest sponsored by the Canadian Automotive Chamber of Commerce, a feat that made him a local celebrity for a time. A youthful venture for which he was less celebrated was his opening of a hamburger joint in an abandoned building with another boy, equally unskilled in cooking and business. It promptly closed due to a kitchen fire.
His father died when he was 17, and it wasn’t clear that there would be funds available for him to attend college. Nevertheless, he would devote many years to higher education, drawn to study medicine even while working toward a doctorate in romance languages.
Prior to university, he learned wireless telegraphy at the Radio College of Canada and enlisted as a radio officer in the Canadian Merchant Navy, crossing the U-boat-infested North Atlantic several times during World War II, and seeing much of the world.
After the service he helped finance his studies with stints as train conductor, Spanish language instructor, and as a radio operator on Baffin Island.
He earned his medical degree in 1958 from McGill University in Montreal. He then married Roberta (Bobbie) Ferguson, a sunny nurse from San Francisco that he met while at university.
After residency and a year spent working for CARE International in Haiti with their two toddlers, the family settled in Redding, California in 1964. He opened a family practice in an office on Churn Creek Road, where he would care for generations of patients for more than 35 years. One remembers him making a house call to her elderly grandmother. She describes Dr. Munro, their family doctor, as “a kind and solid presence.” His dedication to his patients was rewarded at Christmastime with countless tins of cookies, fruitcakes and other homemade treats and thoughtful gifts. After retiring from family practice, he opened three successful walk-in medical clinics in the area.
Soon the family, then with children Suzanne, John, Shannon and David, moved to a 24-acre farm in nearby Palo Cedro. While keeping the farm animals and vegetable gardens to provide food and a healthy country lifestyle for the family, he transformed the landscape around the house into a lush paradise of willows, Japanese maples, flowering shrubs, extensive brickwork and immaculate lawns. As the children grew they became his reluctant team of helpers, as he was eager to instill the value of hard work (or hard labor, as they remember it). His family shared that “his ingenuity, tireless pursuit of his vision, and can-do spirit was on full display in the flourishing of that idyllic place.”
Bobbie died tragically in 1975. Two years later, he again found love and companionship when he married Barbara Meyers, whose warm personality brightened his life. Barbara’s daughter, Linda, and granddaughter, Heather, also added immeasurably to the family.
The couple spent 44 wonderful years together, traveling to Europe, Africa and Canada, and building a vacation home near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a country they especially loved for its warm climate and the wonderful people they met. Of course, he landscaped the yard into a shady flower-filled garden of great beauty. Their animal companions were Smokey, their long-lived dog who recently died, and Duncan, a lively and talkative African grey parrot.
In 2018 they moved to a lovely cottage at the Claremont Manor, where they valued the kindness of the staff and meeting their lively and interesting neighbors.
Through their years together, the couple graciously welcomed both planned and impromptu visits from their many family members, and gamely attended lively reunions with their kin. One event turned out to be a surprise 90th birthday party for him, complete with an early morning hot air balloon ride sweeping past majestic Mt. Shasta, and a taco truck and fresh lime margarita station for the many guests.
His cooking skills were often on display in his home as he would try new recipes that he clipped from the newspaper, taking great pleasure in plating, serving and enjoying his creations with his wife and their guests. He was a Rummikub player extraordinaire, always willing to play another game to let his opponent try to even the score.
“There is no doubt that our patriarch’s presence will be felt whenever those well-worn tiles are arrayed on the table between us at future gathering,” his daughter predicted.
Dr. John Robert Munro is survived by his beloved wife Barbara; their children Linda (Ron Moore), Suzanne (Mark McGranaghan), John (Shawn Ryan), Shannon (Tim Cremins) and David (Beatrice Sturtzenegger Munro); grandchildren Heather (Andrew Strauss), Valerie, Ian, Quinn, Remy and Willem; and great-grandchildren Brandon and Aidan. He is also survived by his sister, Kay MacIntosh, of Vancouver, British Columbia; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins north of the border.
His family credits his longevity in part to his “ever-curious and forward-looking nature, his inability to see obstacles, and his strong faith in God and the afterlife, which helped him to not dwell upon earthly problems. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.”
A private celebration of his life has been planned for a later date.