‘Imposing figure’ was ‘man of the people’ at Comox hospital

Monsignor John Tunner's contribution to St. Joseph's General Hospital is highlighted in the hospital's Legacy Years campaign.

Monsignor John Tunner

The Comox Valley Record is featuring a monthly look into the history of St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox to recognize the hospital’s centennial.

Monsignor John Tunner’s still-remembered contribution to St. Joseph’s General Hospital is one of many stories highlighted in the hospital’s Legacy Years campaign.

The St. Joseph’s General Hospital Foundation encourages the Comox Valley community to send in commemorative stories detailing a special memory of the hospital with a donation in support of its centennial celebrations.

Dr. Lui Carvalho, who spent 35 years working at St. Joseph’s, submitted the story of Monsignor Tunner, who was known here as Father Tunner.

“I’ve met a lot of people of every kind of religion, any kind of culture and they still do talk about (Tunner) — he was the best thing that happened to them in hospital,” recalls Carvalho.

“He had a joke for all of them, he was there every day, and was all together a people’s person, and his visits were instrumental in them getting better, I think.”

Tunner was born in 1897 in Bethlehem, Pa. He came to the Comox Valley in 1945 after time spent as a priest in various other U.S. towns, five years as a U.S. Navy chaplain, time in northern Vancouver Island First Nations communities. He spent nearly 40 years here.

Although Tunner was well-known as a priest in the Valley, he was also known, simply, for being a jovial and kind man, according to Carvalho.

“He was an imposing figure, always wearing a collar and hat. He was always cheerful but had a loud booming voice,” says Carvalho.

“I always think of him as a man of the people. He certainly did not drive a fancy car, but instead was known for his big, sensible American Buick sedan. He drove every day in all weather to visit and cheer all patients at the hospital.”

Carvalho adds Tunner lived in a modest apartment, which illustrated the modest person he was.

“A book on how to make cocktails, a box of Crunchie chocolate bars that he would keep for the children who visited or who he gave Sunday school lessons to, and, in the background, a Philadelphia Eagles football game,” recalls Carvalho, who would visit Tunner at his apartment.

Tunner was named the 1982 Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, and a quote from his acceptance speech, recorded in a newspaper clipping, demonstrates Tunner’s personality:

“I didn’t like you people at first. I wanted to go back to Campbell River. But you treated me royally and I took you to heart.”

Even after he retired, Tunner continued to visit hospital patients, and even after patients went home from hospital, he would continue to visit them, says Carvalho. He recalls Tunner taught one woman’s budgie bird to speak during his visits with her after she left St. Joseph’s.

Carvalho notes the decision of which story to send to the Legacy Years was tough because, “There are so many people that matter to the hospital” — and he couldn’t choose everybody.

He says the nuns made a big impact. Then he considered the operating room aides, who he says are integral behind the scenes and are rarely recognized for their hard work.

But, then Tunner popped into his head and he wanted to highlight the impact Tunner made on hospital patients and staff, Catholic and non-Catholic, during his time in the Valley.

“Not only did he visit them every day, he was very jovial — never wanted to convert them or evangelize them. That wasn’t his idea,” recalls Carvalho.

“And he did a lot for this community because he was recognized, not for his hospital visitations, but because he was such a well-known man. Everybody liked him.”

Tunner passed away in 1984 at the age of 87, fittingly, in St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

For more information on the Legacy Years campaign, visit www.cvhospitalfoundation.com, stop by the foundation office at the hospital or call 250-890-3046.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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