Dr. Albert Armstrong, 84, veterinarian, officer in Canadian air force

October 11, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Dr. Albert Belmore Armstrong, a retired Baltimore-area veterinarian and a former officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, died Friday of complications from bladder cancer in his Columbia home. He was 84.

He was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and moved to Guelph, a city 50 miles west of Toronto, as a boy. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.

After graduating in 1942, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a navigator with the 76th Squadron. He flew more than 30 missions over Germany. Later in life, he sang songs like "Coming In On a Wing and a Prayer" to his children to help them sleep.

After his discharge, Dr. Armstrong worked as a veterinarian in upstate New York and Washington, D.C., before opening his practice on North Avenue in Baltimore in 1947. He was living in a Mount Vernon boardinghouse and had dinner almost every night in a nearby German restaurant, where he befriended waitress Louise Esserwein.

One night, the waitress' daughter, Dolores Esserwein, came in to say hello to her mother, and Mr. Armstrong was immediately smitten. "He wanted to know who the beautiful woman was and asked for an introduction," said his daughter, Barbara Armstrong Green of Silver Spring. "It was love at first sight."

The couple married two months later and later moved to Towson.

In his practice, Dr. Armstrong was "an old country doctor," Mrs. Green said. "He only charged people what they could afford."

A couple and their two young, crying children once came into Dr. Armstrong's office, carrying their Airedale, which had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and internal injuries, Mrs. Green said. "You could tell how torn the family was," she said. "They wanted to save their family pet, but they also knew they couldn't afford it."

Dr. Armstrong told the family they could work out a payment plan later, and he performed surgery to fix the leg and repair the internal bleeding. The dog returned home a few weeks later, Mrs. Green said.

He was equally kind to his employees, said daughter Peggy Armstrong of Washington, D.C. He would let them stay in an apartment above his offices so "they could save money to buy their first house," Ms. Armstrong said.

He frequently brought abandoned pets home and often brought his children to his office, where they could also play with the animals. "We almost lived in a petting zoo," Mrs. Green said.

After moving his practice several times, Dr. Armstrong closed it in 1975 and joined the veterinary practice of his brother, Dr. Jack Armstrong of Towson. He retired in the mid-1980s.

Dr. Armstrong became an American citizen in the mid-1950s and traveled to Canada frequently. In addition to barbecuing on the Fourth of July, he also celebrated Canada's independence July 1, known as Dominion Day. Every summer, he would also host a large gathering, where he would buy up to 300 ears of corn to boil for guests.

"He just liked to see everyone together," Mrs. Green said.

During the 1990s, Dr. Armstrong spent much of his time caring for his wife, who had lung cancer. She died in 2001, and Dr. Armstrong moved to Columbia shortly afterward.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home, 4112 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City.

In addition to his daughters and brother, he is survived by another daughter, Susan Goglia of Clarksville, and five grandchildren.

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