British Columbia

B.C. couple married nearly 75 years died of COVID-19 fewer than 2 days apart

On Easter weekend, 98-year-old Joan Proctor and her 97-year-old husband Robert died within 37 hours of each other. To most British Columbians, they were two more nameless COVID-19 deaths. To their granddaughters, they were two perfect pieces of a puzzle that kept them together nearly 75 years.

Granddaughters say Bob and Joan Proctor were like the 'perfect puzzle piece'

Robert (Bob) and Joan Proctor were married Aug. 15, 1945. (Submitted by Proctor family )

There's a plate of freshly baked coconut oatmeal cookies made with grandma's favourite recipe, a photo album, and endless memories of Robert (Bob) and Joan Proctor. 

Most of the family simply called them "the folks," but to Ashley Simpson and Sarah Simpson, the Proctors were "pa and grandma."

As the sisters reminisce on a sunny afternoon at Sarah's home in New Westminster, B.C., the constant laughter is clearly a product of their love for their grandparents and their grandparents' love for each other.

"They were the perfect puzzle piece," said Ashley, 36. 

"They balanced each other out and just meshed so well together." 

After 74 years of marriage, Bob, 97, and Joan, 98, died on Easter weekend only 37 hours apart, less than two weeks after they tested positive for COVID-19 at their North Vancouver care centre. 

Before retirement, Bob worked for Canada Post and Joan taught preschool. Together they had four children, nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. 

Ashley and Sarah, 32, want to share the couple's story as a way to honour them but, more importantly, to put faces to the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Sisters Ashley Simpson, left, and Sarah Simpson, right, want their maternal grandparents to be remembered for more than being victims of COVID-19. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Wartime sweethearts 

Not long after Bob was born in Scotland, his family moved to Ontario. 

During World War II, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was stationed in B.C. 

One night, a pal asked Bob to join him for an evening out because his date was bringing her sister. That sister was Joan. 

She and Bob were married on Aug. 15, 1945 and set up house first in Vancouver and soon after in North Vancouver.  

Bob and Joan met while Bob was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He had been sent to the West Coast during World War II. (Submitted by Proctor family )

Living with pa and grandma 

When Ashley was 10 and Sarah was six, their parents moved the family to B.C. from Ontario.

The four of them lived with the Proctors for just under a year. 

Pa's bedtime storytelling was "colourful," says Ashley, remembering how he would incorporate sound effects and gestures.

"Probably the way we know the Three Little Pigs is not the way most people know the Three Little Pigs," said Sarah.

She also remembers coming home from dance lessons and pa would practise with her to Spice Girls' music. 

"He'd get up there and jig around," Sarah said. 

Joan Proctor was born in Vancouver and went on to be a preschool and kindergarten teacher. (Submitted by Proctor family )

Handyman and a homemaker 

Joan managed the household and the finances. She taught the girls crafts and was a great baker and cook. 

Her recipe file is coveted by Sarah, Ashley and their cousins. 

Bob was a handyman who completed the couple's house once the builders put up the frame. 

He also once built a wooden boat and Sarah remembers he liked to paint his house with a broom. 

Robert (Bob) Proctor was born in Scotland but moved with his family as a young boy to Ontario. (Submitted by Proctor family )

Partners in everything 

The pair loved to travel. They saw most of B.C., Yukon and Alaska from their camper van. 

And, of course, there was time spent fishing from the boat that Bob built. Joan would do the rowing. 

Well into their 90s, they would spend every February at the same little hotel in Waikiki. 

They danced together, gardened together and regularly walked all over North Vancouver, always hand in hand. 

The Proctors lived in the house that Bob built for 66 years — until Joan fell, broke her hip and life changed. 

Bob and Joan Proctor raised four children in the house that Bob built. They lived there for 66 years. (Submitted by Proctor family )

Always together 

Bob developed dementia and Joan was too weak to go back home. 

The family knew separating them would be devastating — the time Joan spent in hospital recuperating from her broken hip had already taken a toll. 

Fortunately, they were able to move into the same North Vancouver care centre, into a room for two.

Sarah and Ashley had visits there with Bob and Joan in February, before the COVID-19 lockdown. 

"It was really positive. They were in really good spirits," said Ashley. 

A photo of Ashley, left, and Sarah Simpson on either side of their grandfather has a special spot in Sarah's living room. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The final weeks 

On April 1, word came that Bob had tested positive for COVID-19. Two days later it was the same news for Joan, although she showed no symptoms. 

But the daily progress emails started to come twice a day. 

"The news got sadder and sadder and tougher to read," said Ashley. 

Bob died just after noon on Good Friday, April 10. Joan died 37 hours later on Easter Sunday. 

Sarah says in the midst of her family's grief "it was just peaceful knowing they were together."

When pandemic restrictions are relaxed the Berkley Care Centre plans to hold a ceremony to dedicate the Proctors' room in their name. 

In May, the family held a small graveside ceremony. They hope to have a bigger celebration of life on Aug. 15, which would have have been the couple's 75th wedding anniversary. 

Bob and Joan Proctor celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in August 2015. (Submitted by Proctor family )

To hear Ashley and Sarah Simpson remember their grandparents on CBC's The Early Edition, tap here.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Belle Puri

Reporter

Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.

With files from Cathy Browne

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