Selkirk College Community Remembers ‘Doc’ Jack Colbert
Committed to his community and adored by patients, Dr. Jack Colbert was the epitome of a rural doctor. A passionate supporter of Selkirk College and empowering future health care professionals, the new Dr. Jack Colbert Memorial Awards Fund is a legacy that will assist students in the Rural Pre-Medicine (RPM) Program aiming to follow in his inspiring footsteps.
Leaving behind a remarkable record of community building and medical excellence, Colbert passed away two months shy of his 100th birthday in December 2021. A plastic surgeon who went above and beyond in the care he provided patients, Colbert combined a career and family life with a deep devotion to making the West Kootenay region the best it could be.
“Dad wanted to help people that needed to get to that next level in their own journey, whether that was through education or other forms of personal development,” says eldest son John Colbert. “It’s vitally important to get people into the rural areas in medicine. Dad knew how hard the next generation of physicians need to work to reach their career goals and this is a way to provide a hand up to those who need it.”
Finding Home in the Mountains
Raised in Saskatchewan and educated on the prairies, Colbert moved his growing family to Trail in 1953 for what was intended to be a 12-month stint in the mountains. Captivated by both the recreational opportunities and small-community charm of the region, one year turned into 68. Totally committed to his adopted hometown, Colbert ran a busy medical practice while giving back through a multitude of recreation, sport, professional and community organizations.
During his first decade in the region, Colbert was very involved in the hockey community with the Trail Smoke Eaters as the team physician and on its executive. When son John started his own post-secondary journey at Selkirk College in the late-1960s and was member of the Saints hockey team, his father became involved in the role of team doctor. At the time, Dr. Jack Colbert’s good friend Andy Soles was the principal (president) at Selkirk College and encouraged him to bring his energy to the institution’s Board of Governors.
Colbert was involved at the governance level for 12 years starting in 1976 and ending in 1988, where he served as board chair during the mid-1980s. His commitment to post-secondary did not end with governance, Colbert also served as president of the Selkirk College Foundation which has a mission to support the programs and students at the institution.
Dr. Leo Perra was the president of Selkirk College for two decades between 1980 and 2000. Working with Colbert on the board of governors, Perra remembers his friend as a leader who was supportive, committed and brought insightful perspective to the broader goals of rural post-secondary.
“He was a staunch supporter of the community college model in terms of providing opportunities to people at the local level,” says Perra. “He was a supporter of the college through-and-through, he made it his interest and certainly it helped make Selkirk College what it is today.”
In the mid-1980s, Perra and Colbert traveled to Asia on two occasions as Selkirk College was beginning to build international education partnerships in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. As their relationship grew as both colleagues and friends, Perra fondly recalls Colbert’s continual thirst for gaining deeper understanding as he struck up conversations with people on the streets of bustling international cities.
“Jack had a really deep interest in advancing post-secondary in the region and that included opportunities that would strengthen the communities where the college had a presence,” says Perra. “But it was more than that, he was fun to be with and was known to people across the institution because his interest was so genuine. He was the ideal board chair.”
Lifelong Learner and Lifelong Supporter
Colbert’s support for the college, its learners and the staff never waned, he was a regular at events until his final years. Selkirk College Chemistry Instructor Allyson Perrott was Colbert’s neighbour in Trail and met him 20 years ago when she moved to the community. They became dear friends, attending college functions together for two decades where Colbert would not be shy about expressing his continued deep dedication to outcomes for learners.
“Jack felt great pride in being associated with the college from its earliest beginnings,” says Perrott, who today teaches many of the RPM Program students who attend the Castlegar Campus. “Jack felt that he had helped build up the college and he became quite passionate about keeping it up. At college gatherings, he would pounce on President Angus Graeme or Vice President Rhys Andrews and tell them what’s what.”
Though a highly respected physician, who for many years was the only plastic surgeon between Vancouver and Calgary, Colbert was the embodiment of a rural doctor. Willing to grab his kit in the middle night to make a house call if required, he would often return home with a generous helping of Italian cooking or gift of tasty borsht. With the family home along the banks of the Columbia River, his children recall the time an angler came knocking on the door after the man got a fishing hook stuck in his lip. Fondly known as “Doc” by those in the community who knew him, Colbert fixed the man up so he could go back to casting a line shortly after.
“He respected people, it didn’t matter where they were in their life,” says daughter Kim Bekkering. “He was a very encouraging person, he liked to hear your story and he really listened. He wanted people to reach for their full potential and the family is very pleased to start this endowment fund in our father’s name.”
The Dr. Jack Colbert Memorial Awards Fund is an endowment that will provide an annual scholarship to students in the Rural Pre-Medicine Program. The estate has started the fund with an invitation to all those touched by Dr. Jack Colbert’s kindness and dedication to contribute.
Contributions can be made online at selkirk.ca/donate-today or by cheque. Please send cheques to Selkirk College Foundation, 301 Frank Beinder Way, Castlegar, BC, V1N 4L3. Please note the Dr. Jack Colbert Memorial Awards Fund with your gift (online or by cheque). For assistance, please contact Coordinator of Donor & Alumni Engagement Andrew Jupp at 250-505-1304.