Woman can­cels 72-year-old debt to mark 97th birth­day

Pay­ing hospi­tal bill for 15 cents more ac­cept­able to fam­ily than ini­tial idea of get­ting ar­rested to see what it’s like

Penticton Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By RON SEY­MOUR

A Kelowna woman cel­e­brated her 97th birth­day Wed­nes­day by pay­ing a 15-cent hospi­tal bill from 1945.

Kather­ine Brown de­cided, at long last, to make good a debt she be­lieves was un­justly im­posed 72 years ago.

“It’s on my bucket list to pay this darn bill, and today’s the day,” Brown said. “I al­ways pay my bills, but I’ll ad­mit this one has taken awhile.”

The bill was for a phone call Kelowna Gen­eral Hospi­tal staff made to Brown’s hus­band Henry in West­bank on July 15, 1945, in­form­ing him that his son had been born.

How­ever, the boy had ac­tu­ally been born two days earlier. In those days, it wasn’t com­mon for fa­thers to be at the hospi­tal for the de­liv­ery, and Henry had been wait­ing at home to hear the happy news be­fore catch­ing the ferry to come over to Kelowna.

“After Rod­ney was born, I was won­der­ing and won­der­ing where Henry was, and I was start­ing to think maybe he’d de­serted me,” Brown re­called. “But the hospi­tal had goofed up and not made the call right when they should have.

“My hus­band was so an­gry about that, and then he was re­ally an­gry when they tried to charge him 15 cents for mak­ing the call late,” Brown said. “As a point of prin­ci­ple, he just re­fused to pay.”

In 1948, the Browns got an omi­nous bill­col­lec­tion let­ter from KGH warn­ing them to pay up or the hospi­tal would be jus­ti­fied in “adopt­ing meth­ods to which we do not wish to re­sort.”

But that, more or less, was the end of things for the 15-cent bill.

Brown said she al­ways in­tended to even­tu­ally pay the charge, and de­cided to do so after mulling ways to cel­e­brate her 97th birth­day.

“I asked her what she wanted to do for her birth­day, and she said, ‘Well, I think I’ve been too moral in my life,’” said Diane Pethe­ri­o­tis, Brown’s grand­daugh­ter.

“Her first idea was to see what it’s like to be ar­rested, and she was go­ing to jay­walk over and over again in front of the po­lice sta­tion un­til they slapped the cuffs on her,” Pethe­ri­o­tis said.

“She was talked out of that idea, and then she said, ‘Well, in­stead maybe I’ll pay this old hospi­tal bill,’” Pethe­ri­o­tis said. “We were like, ‘What old bill?’”

Brown is re­mark­ably spry for her age, still liv­ing on her own, set­ting up a Face­book page for her­self a cou­ple years ago and buy­ing an iPad last year.

She took a dime and nickel down to KGH to pay the old bill, hop­ing she wasn’t go­ing to be charged any penal­ties or com­pound in­ter­est. At the hospi­tal cashier’s desk, amused staff hap­pily ac­cepted Brown’s pay­ment of 15 cents and gave her a re­ceipt.

After set­tling the ac­count, Brown had plans for a more tra­di­tional way to cel­e­brate her birth­day — a trip to the casino.

Later Wed­nes­day, Brown got a call from RCMP Cpl. Tania Car­roll, invit­ing her to come down to the Kelowna de­tach­ment and have her mug shot taken. The po­lice had heard about Brown’s ini­tial birth­day cel­e­bra­tion idea of get­ting ar­rested for the ex­pe­ri­ence of it, and they were more than happy to help out.

“It was a lot of fun go­ing down there,” Brown said. “They took me into the most se­cure room in the cop house, fin­ger­printed me and lined me up for a mug shot. I just wish they’d made me look more like a crim­i­nal!”

Photo con­trib­uted

This just-for-fun po­lice mug shot of Kather­ine Brown was taken at the Kelowna RCMP de­tach­ment on Wed­nes­day, her 97th birth­day.

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