William O. BA MD FRCSc Onerheim

November 5, 2019
On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, William Oswald Onerheim, loving husband, father, grandfather and esteemed surgeon, passed away peacefully at the age 90 after a short illness.
William (Bill) is predeceased by his loving wife Delee, and survived by his cherished four children, Marie (Allen), Ron, Marnie (Val) and Joanne (Brent) and their adored grandchildren Will and Ollie.
Bill was born in Climax Saskatchewan and had a prairie-boy upbringing where he worked hard on the farm, showed his prowess and competitiveness in all sports, became a locally renowned social dancer, and shone scholastically.
As a tyke on a bike he gave a foreshadowing of his future. He would cycle to the infirmary when there was a surgical operation to smell the ether and dream. And he stopped playing the position of baseball catcher to protect his hands. He had decided he was to be a surgeon.
He obtained his BA and started medical school at the university of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, where he met the love of his life, Delee Argue and they started a life-long romance. He finished his MD at the University of Western Ontario where he graduated near the top of his class 1953. That same year, while he was studying for final exams, he and Delee welcomed their first child Marie, who attended Bill’s medical school graduation. Two internship years in Regina saw the arrival of his son Ron. He started his career with a busy general medicine practice in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, where Marnie joined the family.
But he recognized his first love was surgery and decided to pursue surgical training. Enabled by Delee who anchored the family and orchestrated moves across the continent three times, Bill pursued surgical and fellowship training in Seattle and Buffalo, NY. Bill was awarded his Canadian surgical fellowship (FRCSc) in 1963, and Delee and Bill’s fourth and final child Joanne arrived in Vancouver, capping a momentous year.
It was in Red Deer where Bill settled and practiced general surgery for 33 years. His colleagues described him as a modest, fussy, skillful surgeon who never lost his compassion for patients. He was highly respected for his surgical skill, but in addition he was an effective administrator as chief of surgery. He was a pioneer in central Alberta in instituting the revolutionary technique of laparoscopic surgery. Bill was a visionary and was instrumental in helping to design and oversee the construction of the new Red Deer Hospital. All say that Red Deer was lucky to have him.
On the national stage, Bill was active in the Canadian Association of General Surgery. In recognition of his years of dedication to the central Alberta medical service, Bill received the inaugural Regional Royal College Award for the western district; an award for a grass-roots physician, for an unsung hero who served his community with excellence and dedication.
As pater familias Bill modelled his philosophy to his children, such that they develop their innate talents and use them to contribute to the greater good. His children all pursued careers in helping professions. Bill loved to play with his kids, horseplay, water skiing, snow skiing, golf, and he wasn’t a father who pretended his kids won the game, but rather got a laugh by winning at the last minute. If you beat Dad at anything, it was fair and square.
Bill loved the parkland around Red Deer where he hunted and fished with his buddies. But his biggest passion, after surgery, was golf. He was a good amateur golfer and spent his retirement winters in Indio, California, in a condo facing a golf fairway. A milestone for Bill was that he shot a 79 on 79th birthday and he was golfing a week before he left us, and parred all the par threes.
In his retirement, he became an accomplished sculptor, aided by his intimate knowledge of the human form.
Bill was known for a distinct sense of humour, whose recipe included some wry wit and a big dose of teasing, topped with a generous spirit. He loved people, and people loved him back. He was said to have “good vibes” and people sought to be a round him. Even as a young man he got a kick out of “old crocs” and sought out their stories. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. He rarely lost his temper (but when he did, watch out!) and the word we hear over and over as people express their feelings, is “kind”.
The story of Bill can’t be written without Delee. They met and fell in love at a very young age, and shared a life of 68 years together. As a team dedicated to raising their children with parental solidarity, they never fought in front of them. They partnered in organizing Bill’s training and practice. Bill and Delee loved to party and dance and they lit up any soirée with their dashing looks and magnetic presence. Both were mean bridge players. It was a marriage of lovers and best friends, and the magic of that first enthralment never left them. Dad had all their love letters in a keepsake box that he kept near their bed.
With great sadness we said goodbye to our Mother and Grandmother Delee on August 3, this year. We are heartbroken at the passage of our Father and Grandfather who left so quickly after Delee. But they are together again, as they always have been.
(Bill’s autobiography: “William Onerheim, Autobiography of a boyhood in Saskatchewan, a courtship and wedding, a medical education and early career” can be downloaded from Apple Books at no cost. Expressions of sympathy can be mailed to Joanne Onerheim, 4662 Capilano Road, North Vancouver, B.C. V7R4K3)


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