Family and friends remember long-time Red Deer dentist following his sudden passing

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
March 26, 2017 - 8:45pm Updated: March 27, 2017 - 1:57pm

A long-time Red Deer dentist is being fondly remembered following his sudden passing.

Dr. William Hollingshead, referred to by those closest to him as just Bill, was involved in a motor vehicle collision on March 18 in Indio, California near Palm Springs. He sustained a severe spinal injury as a result of the crash, and died March 21.

He was 63.

Bill’s eldest child, Shauna, says she and her two brothers grew up receiving dental care in their father’s office, which was in the Medical Dental Building on 50A Avenue across from Red Deer Regional Hospital. Shauna even worked there for a summer or two during high school.

One time while attending medical school, Shauna recalls needing a wisdom tooth pulled, and general anesthetic was recommended.

“I can pop that out no problem,” Shauna’s father told her. And he did it all in 30 seconds she says recalling how physically fit and confident he was at his craft.

“The main thing is he was so good with his staff,” she adds. “He gave them bonuses, let them go down to his condo [in Indio], and still did after his retirement.”

Eldest son Brian says he couldn’t wait to get in his dad’s dentist chair for his annual checkup.

“He would look in my mouth for five minutes, tell me everything looked fine, and then we would just chat for half an hour,” he says. “He was able to relate to people from all walks of life.”

A friend of Bill’s youngest son Ian was working in the trades in Red Deer, after having moved from Quebec to Alberta, and was complaining of a toothache. Ian took his new friend to his dad, who promptly treated it pro bono.

“His life was so broad, he had friends all over the place,” according to Ian. “If someone was in need, he’d be there in a second. He was a friend to everyone, and had an infectious personality.”

Perhaps Bill’s closest friends were the ones he worked with for more than two decades.

Brenda Besuijen was Hollingshead’s assistant for 25 years. She says he always had a story or a joke and that he made the dentist experience about his patients.

“He made it so when they came in, it was not just about the dental work, it was about them and us as well,” she says.

Fellow staff member Shannon Kaufmann worked in Bill’s office as his office manager for 21 years until she also retired. She tells of running into former patients since the office closed.

“We recently ran into a couple that had been coming to the office forever. They were so happy to see us and said they missed the practice, they missed Bill. Our practice was close-knit and our patients were very important to us and to Bill. Even if they couldn’t afford stuff, he helped them afford it, he was just that guy,” she says.

Shannon, who had planned to meet with Bill this Monday, says he was quirky, and was an interesting man outside of the dental office. She and Brenda will never forget his passion for pickling.

“If you wanted to do pickles, you just came and you did pickles. He even did pickles in Palm Springs and we always got a jar and they were damn good pickles. Every Christmas we got a jar of pickles, but you had to bring the jar back,” she jokes.

Bill received two fellowships in his lifetime, one each from the International College of Dentists and the American College of Dentists. As well, he served on the board of the Alberta Dental Association from 1988-1996, including a stint as president from 1994-1995. In May 2016, he was awarded the ADA Award of Excellence.

“I speak for myself, but I know Shannon, all his staff, and previous patients did love him dearly and respected him. We’ll miss him,” Brenda added.

Bill practiced for 40 years in Red Deer. This May, he was scheduled to attend an event marking that milestone. He graduated in 1977 from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Dentistry and retired in 2012. Bill lived in the Summer Village of Jarvis Bay on Sylvan Lake, which his Grandma Jarvis had a hand in naming.

A celebration of life is happening Saturday, April 1 at 2 p.m. at Eventide Funeral Home (4850 45 Street, Red Deer). In lieu of flowers, the family is asking donations be made in his memory to STARS Air Ambulance, in recognition of the fact that following the crash, he was airlifted to a larger hospital following initial care.

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