Dr Robert James (RJ) Creighton
October 23rd, 1933 — March 20th, 2022
“Life is good!”
Dr. RJ Creighton passed away peacefully as the afternoon sun came out on Sunday, March 20, 2022. He was 88.
He often said, “Life is good!” He believed it. He lived it. What’s more, he was a man who, through a life of service and genuine interest in other people, encouraged others to believe it too. It is not an exaggeration to say he positively influenced everyone who crossed his path without ever trying to be ‘influential.’ For his family and the community he loved, this loss will be deeply felt, but his legacy will certainly live on.
Robert James Creighton was born on Oct. 23, 1933 in Schomberg, Ontario to Bill (Earl) and Jean Creighton in their home above the family store. In his early years, effects of the Great Depression were still felt; the store closed and the family of five (late brother Paul Creighton, late sister Joan McFarland) to move to Richmond Hill before settling in Fenelon Falls.
He attended elementary and high school there. As a young lad he developed a passionate love for reading and sports, especially baseball and Horatio Alger novels of perseverance through adversity that inspired readers to have a can-do, optimistic spirit. This is how young RJ would proceed through life, working hard at part-time jobs from age eight and striving to always “look on the bright side.”
RJ denied being a keen student (and no one would argue the fact) although perhaps his voracious reading — a lifelong pleasure — contributed to his being advanced two grades and entering high school at age 11. RJ’s father passed away when he was 14, and soon after, the family moved to Port McNichol where he graduated from Midland Matriculation School.
At 16, he entered the University of Toronto’s pre-medical program. After a less-than-stellar start (RJ often chose to explore the “big city” with his fraternity brothers, many of whom became lifelong friends and colleagues, rather than attend class) he ultimately buckled down and graduated in 1957.
He worked his way through university by juggling many different jobs. His favourites were working at the CNE where he liked to eat lunch while riding the roller coaster, and as a waiter aboard the S.S. Assiniboia on the Great Lakes. His people skills (which would ultimately make him a beloved doctor) made him a favourite on the boat. He also took pride in being able to “take an order for eight people each with five different courses and never write it down!”
In his second year he met and later married Joan Dow. After graduation came two years of residency at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Flint, Michigan. With their first of six children and one on the way, RJ and Joan returned to Canada to open a medical practice in Clifford, Ontario. For 13 years he lived in and served that community. It was here that he began to realize the importance and diverse role of the small-town family doctor, and formed the enduring belief that one’s health wasn’t just about the physical, but was directly connected to the emotional and psychological. As his family and practice grew, he reconnected with his love of baseball on a competitive softball team, and supported church and local causes. In those days he was known as “the flying doctor,” racing from one child’s activity to another in his used VW Bug and between the Walkerton, Hanover, and Palmerston hospitals and homes for house calls.
In 1972, now with six kids, they moved to Walkerton where he opened a new office and became a fixture in all medical, municipal, and social aspects of the community. His involvements are too many to list, but include membership and support of St Paul’s United Church and the Walkerton Golf and Country Club where his competitive nature was on full and fun display. For decades, he sponsored and often won the RJ Creighton Bonspiel. RJ and Joan loved music and dancing, and passed that love on to their kids. In the days of Walkerton’s charity balls, there was the inevitable playing of the Charleston, and with one of his daughters, he would clear the floor.
His love of community manifested itself in how he served in his medical practice for 57 years until his retirement in July 2017. For 40 years he was the doctor for the Walkerton Jail where he brought the inmates genuine care and respect. Among the things that made him an exceptional family doctor was treating everyone the same — rich or poor, old or — a young person he was coaching on how to shake hands and look him in the eye. When he retired, one of his patients said, “The waits at his office were often long, but it was always worth it. He never made you feel rushed. There could be a hundred people in line but he made you feel like you were the only one.”
Dr. Creighton loved general practice. He was the “Swiss army knife” of old-school doctors doing everything from surgeries to anesthetics to treating stomach aches and everything in between. He delivered over 4,500 babies — often several generations of one family, and nearly the population of the town he was working in! It is fitting that shortly after his retirement they named the obstetrical wing of the South Bruce Grey Health Centre the Dr. RJ Creighton Family Birthing Centre.
In 2008, he earned the prestigious Council Award from The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. He was nominated by Dr. David Ponesse and Dr. Paul MacArthur and the nomination was supported by a host of doctors he had worked with over the years. In the nominating letter Dr. Ponesse said, “His calm demeanor in emergency and other difficult situations is a treasure to observe. His perpetual optimism, positive words of encouragement to others, including to nurses and patients, enhances their ability to perform under duress.”
There were difficult times. In 1990, RJ lost his daughter, Mary Beth, in a tragic car accident. In 1994, Joan, his wife of 36 years, passed away from a rare lung disease. Through these and other painful moments and challenges, his optimism remained.
As life moved forward, RJ had the great fortune of having a friendship blossom into a new love. On Dec. 28, 1996 he married Karen Creighton (née King) and they recently celebrated 25 years of love and laughter. Together, they built an incredible group of fun and loving friends. They traveled the world and continued to be very involved in their community and with their family — Karen’s two daughters (Sarah King Brohman and Stephanie King) and RJ’s five children (Debbie Lou Ludolph, Peggy Jo Scott, Bill Creighton, Ruth Anne Hamel and Robert Creighton).
On March 20, in the hospital where RJ served for nearly six decades, with his hand held by his loving wife and surrounded by their children, he slipped peacefully from this world. His late daughter Mary Beth would have celebrated her 60th birthday that very day and he surely had a heavenly party to attend.
RJ would have said he was blessed with a good life. He found such joy in family and friends, in every single Blue Jays and Raptors game, in competition on the curling rink, the pool table and the putting green. He loved to sip a scotch (water on the side, no ice) and to cheer the accomplishments of every generation of his family, and offer advice when needed.
He leaves behind his wife Karen and their seven collective children and spouses, 17 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, a legion of loving nephews, nieces, friends, colleagues and thousands of humans he helped bring into this world!
The Creighton family wishes to thank Dr. Paul MacArthur, the tremendously caring nursing staff at SBG Health Centre, and all the loving friends in Walkerton and beyond for their support.
Life IS good. BELIEVE IT!