Family, medical community remembers influential Richmond pediatrician who died of COVID-19

·4 min read
Cindy Behrmann holds a photo of her husband with a young patient. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Cindy Behrmann holds a photo of her husband with a young patient. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Dr. Bernard Behrmann was always known for his sense of humour. Whether it was performing magic tricks or cracking dad jokes, he'd always try to put a smile on someone's face.

It's what made him great at his job.

"He really believed in wringing every bit of joy and fun you could out of every day, and I think that kids have that too," said his wife, Cindy Behrmann.

Behrmann, known by friends, family and colleagues as Jack, was a Richmond-based pediatrician. For years, he was the department head at the local hospital, improving services for children in need.

He died at the same hospital in the summer of 2020, six years after he retired at age 67. Now his family and colleagues are looking back on his achievements after what would have been his 68th birthday.

Behrmann is one of more than 1,700 British Columbians who have died of COVID-19. He battled the virus for one hundred days before he succumbed to it.

His family says his legacy lives on through his kids, and the many other children and families he helped throughout his career.

"There are a lot of kids out there whose lives he changed," she said.

Cindy Behrmann says her husband Jack was an adventurer throughout much of his life, travelling across the world. It's a hobby he held onto into his retirement.
Cindy Behrmann says her husband Jack was an adventurer throughout much of his life, travelling across the world. It's a hobby he held onto into his retirement. (Submitted by Cindy Behrmann)

Adventurous and fun-loving

Behrmann was born in South Africa in 1954. Even as a kid, he was known for his sense of humour. In fact, that's how he got his nickname.

"He went to camp one year, and there were two Bernard Behrmanns," she said. "They were going to call them Bernard and Bernie, but he said 'just call me Jack!' "

"Somehow, it just stuck ... it's got nothing to do with his [name]," she added, laughing.

Behrmann studied medicine in Johannesburg, but like many people growing up during the country's era of apartheid, he couldn't bear the institutionalized racism. His wife says he felt a moral obligation to leave the country.

As a young adult, he spent many years travelling, tapping into his sense of adventure, going to places like New Zealand, London, and then Canada, where he picked up a residency as a pediatrician.

Jack Behrmann was known for doing magic tricks and making corny jokes to put a smile on the faces of others, says his wife.
Jack Behrmann was known for doing magic tricks and making corny jokes to put a smile on the faces of others, says his wife.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Making a difference

Behrmann met his wife in Edmonton in the 1980s. The pair would then move to B.C., settling in Richmond where they started a family.

He continued on his work as a pediatrician at Richmond Hospital. His passion for child health was fuelled by his youthful exuberance — and his love of kids.

"He was fantastic with kids," said Behrmann. "It didn't matter where you were, if there were kids there, he was doing something. He would do magic tricks — he just had a way with kids."

Dr. Bernard (Jack) Behrmann was born in South Africa, and eventually settled in Canada where he became the Department Head of Pediatrics for Richmond Hospital.
Dr. Bernard (Jack) Behrmann was born in South Africa, and eventually settled in Canada where he became the Department Head of Pediatrics for Richmond Hospital.(Submitted by Cindy Behrmann)

Behrmann excelled in his field, eventually becoming the Department Head of Pediatrics at the hospital. During his time, he oversaw the development of the hospitals' Child Health Centre.

Dr. Erik Swartz, who has since taken over the role of pediatrics head at the hospital, says Behrmann took a special interest in children with autism and ADHD, and enhancing services for families.

"He really advocated for pediatrics here in Richmond, B.C.," said Swartz ."He really helped out many, many families over many years."

Cindy Behrmann also contracted COVID-19 and believes she and her husband may have come into contact with the virus while travelling back to Canada from the Dominican Republic in 2020.
Cindy Behrmann also contracted COVID-19 and believes she and her husband may have come into contact with the virus while travelling back to Canada from the Dominican Republic in 2020.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

A touching farewell

Behrmann and his wife retired in 2014, and spent much of their time abroad. They were staying in the Dominican Republic when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

They cut their trip short out of safety concerns. But shortly after arriving home, both of them started showing symptoms of COVID-19. They suspected they may have contracted it while in transit.

Behrmann was admitted to the hospital in April, beginning his more than 100 day fight with the virus.

"It was a roller coaster until probably mid-July, and then it became very clear that he wasn't going to survive," said Behrmann.

Just days before his passing, Behrmann got the chance to see his son get married.

The family was able to organize a small wedding inside a boardroom at the hospital.

"He was really happy to be there," she said.

Behrmann's family held a wedding ceremony inside the Richmond Hospital while he was a patient there.
Behrmann's family held a wedding ceremony inside the Richmond Hospital while he was a patient there.(Submitted by Cindy Behrmann)

Behrmann passed away on July 22, at the same hospital he where he spent much of his career. He leaves his wife, three children and a legacy of putting smiles on faces.

"The middle line [on his gravestone] will be 'a friend to every child,' " said his wife.

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