I arrived with Gilbert, my cockapoo who was immediately befriended by one of the many Gutowski grandchildren. Thanks to Anita and Willi’s love there are lovely daughters and handsome son in laws. The beautiful house on the hill overlooking (of course) the golf course, was overflowing with friends and family. Gilbert fit right into the groups of children running this way and that on the large lawn. Hugged first by Willi then by Anita I had food offered to me by both. Lots of those dainty girl things that looked ornate and hardly warranted a bite except to taste beside much more manly sandwich fair. A very good ‘spread’ in the jargon.
I took a seat on the balcony in the glorious sun and was soon hearing story after story from those who’d known Willi and Anita since early days in Minnetonas, Manitoba. There were stories of University of Manitoba, Africa and tales of British Columbia and California.
In a rough time in my life, following a divorce, following a crisis of direction as a doctor, after too much drinking in Mexico I came to Willi to ask him what I should do next. Willi thought it was good that I’d stopped drinking and stopped smoking marijuana despite what other psychiatrists had said. He knew too the corruption in the system but didn’t think that I should focus on that but rather look to spiritual ideals. I remembered when I’d had Dr. John White as my mentor in psychiatric residency he’d said the same. So with Willi’s direction I stayed at church, stayed sober, made no decision further about quitting medicine or giving up being a physician and psychiatrist but rather focussed “recuperation”. He mostly told me that Jesus had said “Do not be afraid.’ I was very anxious at the time and couldn’t help but dwell on Freud’s statement ‘maybe the paranoids are right’. But Willi, always calm, encouraged me to “not be afraid’. I’ll be forever grateful.
With Anita he introduced me to the Christian Medical and Dental Society. I'd met Dr. Lam at the Evangelical Medical Association and soon was among the finest caregivers. I’d been drawn to medicine after praying in the chapel of the United Church at the University of Winnipeg. I’d most admired Dr. Albert Schwietzer. I’d sought out Dr. John White in Psychiatry. When I wanted to go off as a missionary doctor in Africa, romantic that I am, Dr. Jack Hildes convinced me the greatest need was with the Northern Medical Unit. I was happy serving. Indeed I saw medicine as service.
Thanks to Wili’s sage advice and Anita’s meals I stayed in medicine and returned to psychiatric practice a year later. That year off was an amazing time of learning. I spent a lot of time in church and in prayer and met doctors thereafter who I could admire. I remember Dr. Graeme Cunningham telling me, “some people run with the cheetah’s, some people run with the turkeys, sound’s to me you’ve been running with the turkeys’. It was an amazing life lesson. I had come to believe the little circle of the world I had inhabited at the time represented the greater whole. I came again to be amongst the finest and best of physicians and psychiatrists and would once again love my career.
Later I worked with Willi and Anita in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. There I met the greatest of nurses and the best of colleagues on this island where Willi and I were the sole psychiatrists. Often I’d know the delight of Anita’s cooking and share the generosity of their home. At the hospital we’d share patients and I was so impressed with his consummate skill as a clinician and psychiatrist. We’d both trained at University of Manitoba and we both shared with the nurses an appreciation of the wholeness of people. There weren't any ‘part objects’ in our care. Patients were always biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual.
I remember Willi and Anita telling me stories of their early days as missionaries in Africa. One day helping Willi, the consummate handyman, fix something in Saipan, he told me “I learned to fix things as a missionary. Everything breaks down in Africa.” He and Anita sail and I sail. They didn’t get tattoos, though.
Willi and Anita were very much apart of the the Saipan Pentecostal church. I had a wonderful time getting to know the pastor there and joining in the uplifting exciting Pentecostal worship. Willi and I studied the Holy Spirit together and meditated together. I remain more ecumenical, a Baptist, who’d become United and finally Anglican who attended the Methodist and Pentecostal church and enjoyed Catholic services as well. It was Willi though who enlightened me to the Holy Spirit. My friend, Dr. Bernie Klassen had prayed as well to the Holy Spirit while I’m more likely to called out to Jesus, “ the god within” in a kind of 911 way of prayer. There’s wisdom in the distinctions which I’d later learn more about studying with Dr. James Houston thanks to the foundation that Willi and his minister encouraged in addressing the details and not just the generalities.
Then we would golf. Willi and Anita both loved to golf, as happy to haul clubs around the course as to whip about on the little electric moon buggies called golf carts. I’ve golfed more with those two than I have in my life and expect they were practicing Christian patients. I learned a whole lot about Mulligans.
Late Friday after noon we’d either go golfing or go scuba diving as our ‘staff meeting’. I loved to scuba dive and Willi was a great buddy. He ‘d carry the hospital ‘beeper’ in a water proof pouch and only occasionally would either of us get called and have to slowly ascend to the surface to call our covering family physician colleague. I’d actually write up minutes about the work we’d discuss leaving out all the theology, philosophy, history and politics that got addressed as well. I was sorry to leave Saipan. My mother was sick. I was homesick for Canada.
What was amazing though was learning one day sometime after we’d met that Willie’s family farmed in Minnetonas. That’s where my grandfather’s ranch and logging operation was. Not only that my cowboy uncle, a true character out of Louis L’amour novel, had worked for the Gutowski farm at one time. Small world.
Now here I was listening to Willi’s daughter read from a love letter Willi had sent to Anita in medical school. It was so touching. Then the daughters, one from Winnipeg, one from Oregon, and one from Chilliwack with hardly a rehearsal here, sang the most beautiful collection of Christian songs, the favourites of the parents.
It was truly a privilege and an honour to be invited. Their 50th Anniversary was such a testimony to the breadth and depth of their love. They don’t just talk Christianity and Christian Love. They live Corinthians. Thank you, Willi and Anita.