Few things are more difficult than losing a loved one. For the community, a leader, friend and colleague are lost, and for the family, a mentor and loved one are gone, leaving only memories in their place. The pandemic has added an additional dimension to loss, making it difficult to participate in the traditional customs that help us share the burden of grief; to gather, offer comfort and recall favourite stories and memories.
Ken Bridge is still mourned by the community in which he had such a profound and lasting impact. Born in Kincardine to Gordon and Evelyn Bridge, Bridge entered the world on Apr. 27, 1954. He attended Hillsdale SS#3 until it closed, then transferred to KTTPS. His high school years were spent at KDSS.
In his youth, Bridge read all of James Herriot’s books, including All Creatures Great and Small, the semi-autobiographical story of a rural veterinarian practicing in Yorkshire, England. The story had a profound effect on Bridge, and when it was time to choose a career and move on to post-secondary education, he knew this life was for him.
After high school, he attended the University of Guelph. It was while he attended U of G in 1977 that his father passed away, after a tragic farm accident. Bridge would eventually purchase a farm and land on the Southline, next to where he grew up. He went on to graduate in June of 1980 with his Bachelor of Science degree and Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.
After graduating, Bridge returned to the area, first practicing veterinary medicine in Port Elgin. It was his wish to return to his farm, so just two years after graduation, he became a partner, and later the owner of, the Ripley-Huron Veterinary Clinic and Lucknow Huron Veterinary Services. In 1997, he opened up another veterinary office in Port Elgin to complete his fleet – Huron Shores Veterinary Services.
Bridge shared his passion for working with animals with his children, leading two of the four to follow in his footsteps. Both Robyn and Rebecca obtained their certifications as registered veterinary technicians and worked alongside their father for many years.
“He absolutely loved his work and his dedication to the profession was always so important,” said his beloved partner, Bev Ponton. “He loved solving tough cases. One of his greatest joys as a veterinarian was getting a live calf after a difficult calving.”
Bridge played an active role in the community in which he lived and worked. As a veterinarian, he continued his association with the 4-H club, having participated as a young man. He continued the work of his father, by serving as a leader of the Ripley 4-H Veterinary Club for 36 years, as well as volunteering with a number of others. His father had led the Ripley-Kincardine 4-H Dairy Club for 29 years.
He was a member of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, as well as on the council of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, serving as president on both boards – an accomplishment achieved by few people. Bridge served as a member of the CVMA-CFIA Canadian Veterinary Reserve, as a director on the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario, member of the Ontario Association of Bovine Practitioners, Grey-Bruce Veterinary Association and Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
He enjoyed farming beef, sheep and cash crop on the Southline from 1977 to 2011. He was passionate about agriculture and proud of the farms he owned. Bridge also had a keen interest in off-grid power generation and had an off-grid home custom built in 2012. His home harvested power from solar panels and wind energy with a propane back up system.
As a respected community member, Bridge was an active church member, volunteer and family man. He was an active member of the St. Andrew’s United Church in Ripley, serving as an elder from 1985 – 1990 and 2006 – 2012. He sat on the West Wawanosh Mutual Insurance Company board of directors and was a mason and member of the Northern Light Lodge, No. 93.
Dave Leigh, a long-time friend, described “Bridgey” as a man on the go. He valued education, knowledge and a strong work ethic. While Bridge was a savvy businessman, he also had a compassionate, caring side that was reflected in how he treated his clients and their animals.
“If they loved their animal and yet had no money, he treated the animal anyways,” said Leigh. “My heart swelled with that. Generosity would not be the right word – just extraordinary kindness. Very few in this world will work for free but he did, knowing full well he was not getting anything for the effort.”
His pride and joy were his four children, Robyn, Gordon (Sandy), Brian and Rebecca and his partner, Bev. His six grandchildren were a constant source of pleasure, and a captive audience for his stories about days gone by.
Bridge retired in 2014, but his daily schedule was no lighter; it simply gave him more time to pursue other interests. He could be found tinkering in his shop, touring around in his Ford T-Model, visiting friends, enjoying walks and observing the wildlife on his bush property. He became an avid gardener and fed his entire family with the fruits of his labour for several years in a row. Other pursuits included more time to play chess, studying history and planting trees.
He continued to provide locum work, after his retirement, for the Ripley-Huron Veterinary Clinic right up until the time he was diagnosed with leukemia in Nov. 2019.
His children and friends recall that he didn’t live his life by any single mantra or philosophy, instead, by several rules of thumb.
“Family was so important to him – “family first” was a favourite saying of his, and whenever we would seek life advice from him, that was commonly the answer he would give,” said Rebecca. “He advised his children, ‘Never forget who you are or where you came from’.”
Bridge was a role model for his beliefs and values, impressing on his children the value of hard work and the need to give back to the community, show compassion towards patients and their owners, be selfless and kind to those close to you and those in need of support.
“He stood strong for what he believed in and had faith,” said Ponton. “He used humour to lighten and enlighten. He lived a life where he loved and cared for the people in his life and gave back to the community with his skills as a veterinarian/own personal life experiences.”
Bridge was well-known for his signature ‘thumbs up’, a gesture that all was well and would be okay.
On Nov. 12, 2020, Bridge lost his battle with the leukemia he had fought so valiantly against for the past year. In typical fashion, he requested that donations to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Grey-Bruce Health Services in Owen Sound or the Farley Foundation be made in his memory, in lieu of flowers.
The family, unable to gather because of COVID restrictions, set up an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, and invited anyone with a story to share to reach out to them. They were overwhelmed by the number of people who contributed happy memories and tales, and were grateful for the support they provided. The family hopes that at some time in the not-to-distant future, all the people whose lives he touched will be able to gather and remember a man with many accomplishments, great humour and wisdom.
“Sadly, cancer had caught up to this beautiful person at age 66 – way too young,” said Leigh. “He fought courageously but he knew when the time was up. He left a great legacy of family to carry on and sometimes, that is what counts.”
Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent