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Godspeed Dr. VanderWilde

A good doctor of the kind depcited in Norman Rockwell paintings died last week. Alex VanderWilde, our family physician, passed on. Read his obituary. He was born in 1926 and lived through a unique experience during World War II. I wrote about him in 2003.

Dr. VanderWilde grew up in Bandoeng on the Island of Java in the former Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony at the time. It's now Indonesia. His father, a coffee, tea and rubber trader, was from Holland. His mother was a native of the island. Dr. VanderWilde was the youngest of five children. He was 16 when the Dutch East Indies “capitulated'' to the Japanese on March 9, 1942.

All the schools were closed. “I thought this was a fantastic idea,'' he said. “Then, the reality set in.''

A few months later, the Japanese went door to door and led residents away at riflepoint. Eventually, Dr. VanderWilde landed at an all-male civilian work camp. When I asked him where he slept, he joked: “It wasn't the Best Western. It was the Worst Western!'' Then, he showed me a drawing of the wood pallets the boys and men slept on. No mattresses, no blankets, no sheets. He didn't change clothes for a year. He and the others received one meal a day - spare soup and some bread.They worked like dogs, and many died. Dr. VanderWilde hoped to be a physician before the war. The work camp experience sealed his choice.

Dr. VanderWilde was always ahead of his times. He believed in natural childbirth in the days women were gassed to oblivion during childbirth. He was an early skeptic of the value of cholesterol drugs and some of his fears about the drugs seem to be coming true. He always knew, and gently conveyed, that many ailments had underlying emotional components. He was a gem. In retirement, he and his wife grew Christmas trees.