Dr Rajindar Pal Joneja, 1934–2017

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 5, June 2017, page(s) 275-276 Obituaries
G.B. Gowd, FRCSC

Dr Rajindar Pal Joneja, 1934–2017
Dr Rajinder (Raj) Pal Joneja was born and grew up in the Punjab region of India. As a teenager he experienced and survived the trauma of the partition of India and Pakistan as the country fought for and obtained independence from Great Britain. After graduating from Amritsar Medical School in the first (highest) division in 1958, Dr Joneja moved to the US for postgraduate studies. He specialized in neurology and later added psychiatry as a separate specialty. Dr Joneja studied in hospitals and universities in San Francisco; Albany, New York; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Ottawa.

In 1965 Dr Joneja moved to BC when he was appointed head of neurology at Riverview Hospital in New Westminster. While in Vancouver, Raj met his future wife, Dr Janice Vickerstaff, who had recently arrived from England to take up a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia.

Raj soon decided to expand his practice into the community, opening a private medical service at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. Shortly after, he recognized that the Interior of BC was very poorly served in advanced medical fields, especially in his own specialties of neurology and psychiatry. In response to that need, he began to provide neurology consultations in Kamloops on weekends, flying to the Interior each Friday evening after a week of full days of practice in Vancouver and returning on Sunday night to resume his regular medical duties. 

Eventually, Dr Joneja realized that 2 days per week were insufficient to serve a community such as Kamloops and the surrounding area, and in 1969 he moved there to provide full-time services as the only neurologist, and one of only two psychiatrists, in the Interior. Consequently, he was on call and available to his patients and colleagues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Dr Joneja provided his help and expertise whenever he was called upon, day or night, for many long years. To manage his vast practice he eventually required two full-time secretary/receptionists in his offices on Victoria Street, and later, Nicola Street.

Whenever he could find a free moment, Raj enjoyed playing tennis. His many trophies bear witness to his skill in the sport—at least in local competitions. He was also well known for his love of parties and was never happier than when hosting a gathering of friends and colleagues in his home. He was particularly fond of costume parties, and the annual Joneja Halloween masquerade was immensely popular. Many will recall Raj’s mischievous side and his delight in taking advantage of opportunities to get a laugh.

Raj had a constant desire to learn. His interests led him to try activities as varied as music, cooking, and motorcycling, though he struggled with anything aquatic—including boats and garden hoses. For many years he was a member of the Rotary Club of Kamloops and was made a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of his support for their polio prevention project.

In retirement, Raj showed interest in many aspects of science, especially astronomy and physics. He was a member of the Kamloops Astronomy Society and owned a number of complicated telescopes and pieces of star-tracking equipment, which he happily assembled and operated at his home and at the family cottage on Shuswap Lake. He also loved photographing wildlife, scenery, and people, and never traveled far without his cameras and related equipment.
Despite his love of parties, in private Raj was a very modest man. In accordance with his explicit verbal and written instructions, a private cremation took place on Wednesday, 15 March 2017, and there will not be a memorial service.

Dr Joneja is survived by his wife, Janice; children, Sunil (Monica) and Nalini; and grandchildren, Katelyn and Michael. He also leaves a loving family including an uncle, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces in India and the US.

Raj and his family have been very close to us since 1971 and losing him has been very painful. During summers, weekends, and holidays at the cabin, living side by side on the north shore of Shuswap Lake, we swam and played tennis together. He was so hard working—he used to bring his patients’ charts to work on them. We miss him a great deal.
—G.B. Gowd, FRCSC Kamloops