Department OF OBstetrics and Gynaecology mourns an iconic member

February 5, 2014

Dr. Gary Romalis: an inspiring clinician, teacher, mentor and champion of reproductive choice.

Sadly, late on January 30th, Gary died in hospital at age 76 from complications of acute pancreatitis, a final battle he was not to win.

Dr. Romalis was a graduate of UBC medical school in 1962 and in his second year was assigned a case of a young woman who had died of a septic abortion from using slippery elm bark, a tragic story that imprinted itself permanently on his heart.  He went on to Cook County Hospital where his first month of internship was on the Obstetrical sepsis ward where he encountered more women who died or barely survived from complications of their unsafe abortions. He understood first hand the context of women’s lives and their desperate attempts to end unwanted pregnancies. After residency he returned to Vancouver and set up an obstetrical and gynaecological practice in 1972 joining Drs. Nickerson, Cronhelm and Bie. By then abortion was legal in Canada and soon afterwards they all began to provide abortion services as staunch believers in women’s reproductive choice.

Dr. Romalis loved doing obstetrics, the field that first drew him into our specialty when abortion was still illegal. Many will remember him as a soft spoken, kind professional with a quirky sense of humour and a deep rumbling laugh. He treated people with respect and dignity and was always searching for new techniques or tips to improve on the care he and others were providing.

Dr. Romalis worked at Vancouver General Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital in addition to the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women’s Clinic. He was instrumental in setting up the CARE program at BC Women’s 20 years ago and continued to work there until his acute illness.

As a result of his work and belief in the pro-choice movement, Dr. Romalis suffered significant violence and harassment.  His office and private home were frequently visited by protesters. . In 1994, shock waves rippled through our community when there was an attempt on his life while he sat at home in his kitchen. After a very long recovery from that sniper attack, Dr. Romalis showed tremendous courage, perseverance and strength when he returned to work, which included the provision of abortion services. A second attempt on his life occurred six years later when he was stabbed on entering the clinic where he had his private office. Although he recovered quickly there were obvious concerns for his security from all sides, though Gary himself was never afraid. Taking sensible precautions became part of his life but he remained committed to providing abortion care and served as an inspiration to those who also cared deeply about ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services.

He was a Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and sought after as a teacher and mentor. He was an inspiration to many leading to the creation of the Canadian branch of Medical Students for Choice.  In 2001, the members of the National Abortion Federation awarded him the C. Lalor Burdick Award, which honors “unsung heroes” in the pro-choice movement “whose work exemplifies the excellence, commitment, and dedication that are the ideals of NAF members”. He will be missed in our community locally, provincially, nationally and across North America.

Our heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends.

If you would like to honor Gary his family would appreciate donations directed to Congregation Beth Israel towards the Beth Israel Building Fund at 604 731 4161 or email info@bethisrael.ca, to the BC Women's Hospital CARE Clinic, or to the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic.

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