Man of medicine
During the war, blood collection clinics were held regularly in the United Church hall and St Ignatius hall. This photo is of the nurses and staff of the clinic who were under the direction of Dr. Gerry LeBrun
I have been interested in the LeBrun Arena, which is named after Dr. Gerald LeBrun, since I moved to Bedford four years ago. For many years, I often wrote articles about Canadian doctors for the magazine The Medical Post, and he was on my list.
Fortunately, I found a great source of information in his son, Dr. Paul LeBrun, a recently retired Halifax radiologist. He graciously provided me with a moving background of his wonderful father’s medical career and his deep personal commitment to Bedford.
Gerald LeBrun was born in Grand Étang in Cape Breton. When he was nine, with his parents and two brothers, he established new roots in Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley.
After high school there, he earned a bachelor of science in 1933 and his medical degree at Dalhousie in 1937. He then started practicing in Bedford, initially in a small dispensary where Ray Frederick’s Insurance is currently located.
After marrying his new bride, Barbara Longmire, in 1938, he rented and moved into a house next door that had been where a Dr. Morton had lived. The living room became his office and the dining room the waiting room.
Quickly, LeBrun became a busy physician and in 1948 he bought the Dr. Morton home and was joined in his practice by Dr. S. C. “Bud” Fuller. At that time a more formal office was established in the rear of the building with two examining rooms, a waiting room and an X-ray darkroom. The practice continued to grow. In 1957, Dr. Margaret McMurdo, now retired, joined LeBrun and Fuller. They practised together until LeBrun’s death in 1980.
LeBrun’s office hours, five days a week were from 2pm to 4pm and 7pm to 9pm. He never made appointments.
According to his son, Paul, it was Le Brun’s patients who created his schedule. Many arrived early and he insists not many appeared to have complained. His parents told him that when he was a little boy he often kept patients company by sitting on someone’s knees in the waiting room.
Of course, those were the days when doctors like LeBrun made many house calls.
Throughout his 42 years of practice, LeBrun spent many hours making house calls. His son points out that his father knew, if he was asked to make one, usually someone was quite ill or frail, and he couldn’t advise the sick person to go to the nearest emergency room.
Road conditions were often treacherous and weather often terrible. LeBrun had to travel as far as Wellington, Mount Uniacke, or Upper Hammonds Plains, in the early years, often on gravel roads.
“I would sometimes go with him, to keep him company, and wait in the car while he saw the patient,” Paul says. “I have to admit, even though I wasn’t old enough to drive, I’d usually take the car for a spin up and down the patient’s driveway.”
Paul did share with me just how loyal his father was to his patients. “Every summer, we’d spend a week or two at a boathouse we owned on the Bedford Basin,” he says. “It was his vacation, but some of his patients would notice he was there and they would call him on the phone, and, in almost all cases, he’d go to see them. Finally, without telling him, we disconnected the phone, so the poor man could manage to get some time away from his practice.”
In 1950, entered and completed a two-year residency in surgery. He obtained a Certification in Surgery by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 1952. During this time, he held one evening of office hours each week in Bedford. “He had to do this as it was the only source of income he had during his residency,” Paul says.
Following completion of his residency, LeBrun joined the Victoria General Hospital Surgery Department and Dalhousie University Medical Faculty. He was soon involved in many surgical procedures and in teaching medical students and surgical residents. This part of his career included neurosurgery, early open-heart surgery, and many other complex surgical operations in addition to continuing his general practice.
It was a demanding existence but it was a fulfilling role for him since, while he was a general practitioner, he had often worked seven-day weeks, managed urgent overnight calls, and a practice that represented travelling 70 kilometres of highway. This kind of agenda had well prepared him for a surgeon’s duties.
While LeBrun was very much involved with his medical career, he had always found time to personally contribute to his community.
During the Second World War, he was the doctor at all of the blood donor clinics in Bedford. As a charter member of the Bedford Lions Club, he played a major role in its many charitable activities including establishing the Bedford playground on the Basin where generations of Bedford children learned to swim.
His son emphasizes that he was one of the Lions who organized fund raising projects to pay off the large mortgage remaining on the Bedford Recreation Centre. One of his proudest moments was to publicly hold up the burning paid-off mortgage document, an event that was documented in a photo in the daily newspaper. His father’s impressive enthusiasm and support of the club were honoured when after his death in 1980, the arena officially was given his name.
During many of the years he was a family doctor, LeBrun never sent a patient a bill. When asked why, he admitted that he had no idea of how many charity cases he had before the introduction of MSI.
This may well explain why, in Elsie Tolson’s book, The Captain the Colonel and Me, she wrote that LeBrun earned “the unofficial title of Dean of the Medical profession in the municipality.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.