Powell River nonagenarian keeps learning and giving back

William Mitchell-Banks grateful for kindness of neighbours

People who move to Powell River have many reasons for doing so and bring with them just as many stories from their life before.

For William Mitchell-Banks, his 12 years in Powell River have been a continuation of the journey he started when he became a doctor in England and then immigrated to Canada.

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“I practiced in Prince Rupert and then in Creston for many years,” said Mitchell-Banks from his comfortably cluttered, book-filled den. “But as my wife and I got older and began to have some health problems, our children decreed that we had to live near one of them. Our daughter Sara lives in Powell River, which is how we ended up here.”

Now 90, Mitchell-Banks is caregiver for his wife Ruth, and fills his days with a variety of activities, including reading challenging books, writing poetry, website programming, knitting – he recently completed a colourwork vest – and studying languages, currently Italian and German. Banks’ passion for language stemmed from a formative event at one of his first medical practices in England.

“One night a woman came to the office, obviously very ill, and she could not speak English,” he said. “I realized she needed to go to the hospital, but there was no way I could explain to her that the dark ambulance van and two men in dark uniforms were there to help her. It was then I vowed to learn enough Hindi to run my practice, and I’ve been fascinated by languages ever since.”

Mitchell-Banks came to Canada on almost a moment’s notice in 1964.

“My friend Owen and I had been working a combined maternity and general practice, but it came time for us to leave,” he said. “Owen went to Prince Rupert after being recruited by a Canadian doctor, and he telegrammed me to say if we could make up our minds in 24 hours, there would be a job for me, too. We decided to take it.”

After 13 years in Prince Rupert, Mitchell-Banks took a position in Creston, and eventually switched his focus.

“I love maternity,” he said. “There is nothing like the joy of a new baby. But in Creston, I didn’t want to take patients from other doctors, so I moved into geriatrics and palliative care. I helped found the Creston Valley Hospice Society, simply by running an ad in the newspaper that said, ‘no one should die alone.’ And I found a different kind of joy there, too.”

Mitchell-Banks became involved in the Rotary Club in Prince Rupert and Creston, and joined the Powell River club as well. He served as club president in Prince Rupert and Creston and is a past district governor. He was also involved with the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and has been honoured by both organizations.

“I have received the Rotary Service Above Self award, which is the highest honour Rotary gives to an individual, and I received the Family Physician of the Year award in 1986 from the college,” said Banks. “I’ve been honoured by people over my life and I’ve never really known why. I’ve just been grateful.”

Mitchell-Banks has enjoyed his time in Powell River and will continue to give back to the community for as long as he can. “When we came, we found Powell River to be a place full of music, with beautiful surroundings and clean Pacific air,” he said. “It is also full of the nicest people in the world, and I am so thankful for that.”

 
Copyright © Powell River Peak

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