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Dr. Frederick Woodruff endeared himself to the people of Twillingate

·3 min read

Dr. Frederick Woodruff always had time for his patients.

The longtime physician at the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Hospital made sure no one left the hospital without being seen.

“He was very dedicated to the people. There was no such thing as not having an appointment,” said Wavey Smith, a former nurse at the hospital in Twillingate.

That level of dedication endeared him to people in the area.

Smith recalls patients come from all over the area, and even as far away as White Bay, to avail of Woodruff’s services.

“He was a wonderful person,” she said. “He was very caring and compassionate.”

Woodruff died on Nov. 22. He was 97-years-old.

Woodruff was born in Lancashire, U.K., and worked as a radio engineer in the army while serving in Germany during the Second World War.

According to his son, Woodruff would often say he became a doctor almost by accident.

He was forced to visit the medical officer after breaking a rib during an amateur boxing match with the army. The officer asked Woodruff why he thought he had a broken rib. He replied that it hurt when he lifted his arm.

The medical officer dismissed the self-diagnosis and sent Woodruff back to his unit.

That diagnosis didn’t sit well with him.

“My father decided on the spot that he could do better job than that, and talked his way into medical school,” wrote Stephen Woodruff in an email.

Woodruff spent the next decade as a general practitioner in England before deciding to emigrate to Twillingate in Notre Dame Bay after a conversation with an old classmate from medical school.

The schoolmate was curious if Woodruff knew of a new doctor who might be interested in filling a vacancy in Twillingate.

By the end of the night, Woodruff was on his way.

By 1963, Woodruff had arrived in Twillingate and served as a physician at the Notre Day Bay Memorial Hospital from that moment until his retirement.

In that time, he became a beloved family doctor to many in the New World Island region and elsewhere.

“My father, though, had never been happier, travelling on fishing boats and Skidoos to house calls in remote outports, dragging me out of bed to hold a cow’s head while he broke yet another needle trying to inject the sick animal or, worse, leaving me with the angry beast while he dashed off to phone the vet 200km away for advice,” wrote Stephen.

Smith spent just three years at the hospital working alongside Woodruff. While it was a short time, she formed a strong relationship with him.

After Woodruff moved to St. John’s after his retirement, she reconnected with him. They’d chat and share stories.

“He had so many stories about life in Twillingate,” she said.

"My father remembered every face he’d ever seen, every illness he’d cured and every late-night illicit moonshine a grateful patient shared.

“He bought a LandRover and the family bounced around the gravel roads from provincial park to park, him singing over the engine’s roar, and at every stop, we’d encounter at least one person he’d treated,” wrote Stephen.

“I never met anyone who had anything bad to say about (Dr. Woodruff),” said Smith.

Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice