Woman marks 97th birthday by cancelling 72-year debt
Paying hospital bill for 15 cents more acceptable to family than initial idea of getting arrested to see what it’s like
AKelowna 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 a while.”
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 bill-collection 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!”
It was a lot of fun going down there. They took me into the most secure room in the cop house, fingerprinted me and lined me up for a mug shot. Katherine Brown
Katherine Brown of Kelowna holds up 15 cents to pay a 72-year-old bill held by her granddaughter, Diane Petheriotis, Wednesday at Kelowna General Hospital. Brown celebrated her 97th birthday by making good a debt she believes was unjustly imposed.
This just-for-fun police mug shot of Katherine Brown was taken at the Kelowna RCMP detachment on Wednesday, her 97th birthday. Brown had said she wanted to see what it was like to be arrested.