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

dr. Bernard Behrmann was always known for his sense of humor. Whether performing magic tricks or making dad jokes, he always tried to put a smile on someone’s face.

That made him great at his job.

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

Behrmann, known to friends, family and colleagues as Jack, was a pediatrician in Richmond. For many years he was the department head of the local hospital, where he improved the care of children in need.

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

Behrmann is one of more than 1,700 British Colombians who have died from COVID-19. He fought the virus for 100 days before succumbing to it.

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

“There are many children whose lives he has changed,” she said.

Cindy Behrmann says her husband Jack was an adventurer for much of his life, traveling the world. It is a hobby that he kept until his retirement. (Submitted by Cindy Behrmann)

Adventurous and cheerful

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

“He went to camp for a year and there were two Bernard Behrmanns,” she said. “They would call them Bernard and Bernie, but he said ‘Just call me Jack!’ “

“Somehow it just stuck…it has nothing to do with being… [name]’ she added with a laugh.

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

As a young adult, he spent many years traveling, drawing on his sense of adventure, to places like New Zealand, London and then Canada where he went to work as a pediatrician.

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

Make the difference

Behrmann met his wife in Edmonton in the 1980s. The couple would then move to BC and settle in Richmond, where they started a family.

He continued his work as a pediatrician at Richmond Hospital. His passion for children’s health was fueled by his youthful exuberance – and his love for children.

“He was fantastic with kids,” Behrmann said. “It didn’t matter where you were, if there were kids, he’d do something. He’d 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 chief of pediatrics for Richmond Hospital. (Submitted by Cindy Behrmann)

Behrmann excelled in his field and eventually became the hospital’s head of pediatrics. During his time, he oversaw the development of the hospitals Child Health Center.

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

“He really advocated pediatrics here in Richmond, BC,” Swartz said. “He’s really helped many, many families over many years.”

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

A moving 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 started.

They aborted their journey for safety reasons. But shortly after returning home, they both started showing symptoms of COVID-19. They suspected that they contracted it during transport.

Behrmann was hospitalized in April and began his more than 100-day battle with the virus.

“It was a roller coaster ride until probably mid-July, when it became very clear that he wouldn’t survive,” Behrmann said.

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

The family was able to host a small wedding in a hospital boardroom.

“He was very happy to be there,” she says.

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

Behrmann died on July 22 in the same hospital where he spent much of his career. He leaves behind his wife, three children and a legacy of smiles on faces.

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

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