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Friday May 22, 2015

Elrie Clifford Tucker

Husband, father, physician, entrepreneur, mentor. Born on March 17, 1932, in Forest Reserve, Trinidad; died on Jan. 14, 2015, in Montreal, from complications of prostate cancer, aged 82.

Elrie Tucker was always looking to make a buck. As a young man in Trinidad he started a taxi service and ran Saturday-night dances while teaching high school in Port of Spain. He was happy enough, until his brother Eric decided to leave to become a doctor. Elrie realized that there was more to the world than his island home and followed his brother to Montreal.

Elrie entered the science program at McGill University, intending to become a physician, but his interests were broad; he studied Italian and religion as well, and toyed with going into the ministry. He and his McGill friends also started a singing group, the Caribbean Chorus (their 1957 album, Songs from the British West Indies, is still available on Smithsonian Folkways Records).

Elrie and I met while we were at McGill, where he finished 10th in his med school class. Money was tight and summer jobs were essential. One summer, he worked in the Arctic as a cook on the Distant Early Warning Line. A stint at the Greyhound bus station as a porter brought in much-needed cash, although when I took my father to the bus station to introduce him to my future husband, he was not amused to see this handsome young black man skivvied up in a porter's uniform! We married in 1959, while still in school. While I did my fourth year in dentistry, Elrie went to Detroit to intern at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. He returned to Montreal to begin his specialty in obstetrics and gynecology, under the aegis of George Maughan, who advised him to specialize in infertility. With our three-yearold son Christian and baby daughter Holly in tow, we set off for London, England, where Elrie studied at the Chelsea Hospital for Women. When we came back to Montreal, we welcomed our second son, Clive.

In 1967, Elrie bridged the city's racial divide: He became the first black obstetrician to join the staff of the Royal Victoria Hospital. His skills and welcoming personality helped him to develop a thriving practice. When he decided women needed more options than a hospital setting in which to have a baby, he launched his own private birthing centre (he also delivered babies at home, a novelty at the time). Elrie and Stan Blicker, a good friend and fellow doctor, also opened thermography and mammography clinics, while Elrie delved into the then-new field of laparoscopy.

In his mid-30s, he earned his pilot's licence for small planes.

He loved to fly so it wasn't surprising when, in 1973, he started Tropic Air, a Barbados-based charter airline. The airline, which operated for 20 years and was run mainly by local managers, was used by celebrities including Princess Margaret and Bianca Jagger for holiday jaunts to islands such as Mustique.

At 61, Elrie suffered a heart attack and small stroke. He renounced his former couchpotato lethargy and joined the YMCA's Heart Throbs class to get into shape. He retired from his medical practice in the fall of 2013, only when forced by illness.

Elrie was determined to give back to his community, and in 1991 started the Quebec Black Medical Association. He personally raised funds for more than 500 scholarships for aspiring young black physicians and nurses, and for many brilliant young doctors seeking to further their careers. The program was one of his proudest achievements, although his children and three grandchildren were his greatest joy.

Elrie was larger than life - he filled rooms with his personality and humour. A truly remarkable man, with a remarkable legacy, he is deeply missed.

Penelope Tucker is Elrie's wife.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or close friend, see tgam.ca/livesguide

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