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Retired Langford doctor and Empire Games medal winner dies at 92

Portelance was one of the 1st doctors in Langford to open Saint Anthony’s Primary Care Centre

When Dr. Herbert James ‘Jim’ Portelance of Langford won a silver medal for swimming in the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand, he defied his high school principal.

“He was 17 at the time and the youngest in the team,” said Letitia Portelance, his widow. James Portelance died on March 30 in Langford.

Portelance had travelled to Auckland on the Aorangi, a three-week journey, and he would spend three months in New Zealand.

At the Empire Games, he would face Graham Johnston from South Africa, who won gold in the 1650-metre race. After the games, Portelance would return to Canada to face his principal, who had tried to stop him from graduating.

“He got very high grades and went to the University of Washington, where we met,” Letitia said.

It was a chance meeting. The two met when Portelance was working as a dishwasher when his future wife walked in. The pair were friends for almost three years before they started dating.

“Jim didn’t have any money. He didn’t know how to drive a car,” she said.

Letitia said after finishing at the University of Washington, Portelance attended medical school in Seattle despite offers from Canadian medical schools. He wanted to stay close to the woman he had fallen in love with.

“Love overruled patriotism. That was written for his fraternity in Seattle.”

Initially, Portelance planned to go to Saint Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, but instead decided to join his classmate for an interview at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Portelance took an interest in maternities and volunteered to be placed on 24-hour watch to learn as much as possible.

“He delivered 200 babies in one year. One day, he delivered three,” Leititia said.

She said the family moved to Langford and eventually connected with Embert G. Q Van Tilburg, one of two doctors in the area at the time. He was looking for a young doctor and hired Portelance.

Because of his training, Portelance could perform most operations then and was one of the only doctors between Langford and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria.

“St. Francis Hospital, Jubilee. And St. Joe’s, nothing was out here.”

Portelance teamed up with two doctors and bought Saint Anthony’s nursing home from the Sisters of Saint Ann.

“Together, they bought the property with one stipulation. They keep the name Saint Anthony’s.”

Letitia said Saint Anthony’s Primary Care Centre would expand to eight doctors who could set bones and perform other procedures. Eventually, the doctors at Saint Anthony’s would be convinced to sell their shares.

Portelance continued to practice medicine until one month before his 80th birthday.

“He had a stroke when he was 81.”

He is survived by his wife, Letitia; children Ronald (Merily), Douglas (Sharyn), Jeanne (Eric), and Margaret (Jay); grandchildren Dylan (fiancée Regina), Gailyn, Claire, Grace, Allison, Elspeth, Jack, Kathleen, and Roman; and nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

About the Author: Thomas Eley

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