In the early morning hours of March 9, Ponoka Stampede director Gary ‘Doc’ Harbin passed away at the age of 73 peacefully in his Ponoka home among family and friends after a five year battle with colorectal cancer.
Outpourings of support have flowed to the family, explained son Bruce Harbin.
“It was a long hard battle,” said Bruce.
“He was able to find peace at home and he was kind of sleeping for the last few days. And he just fell off.”
His passing comes just weeks after being inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, something Bruce is grateful his father was able to witness and speak to.
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Over the years I was always interested in what Doc had to say. One of the most well spoken and intelligent people I have known. Always was genuinely interest in how someone else was doing. You were passionate about your practice and have given a great deal to rodeo and the Ponoka Stampede. That grin of yours always seemed to pick people up. Doc you will be missed by many but I know your up there grinning, having fun with good company.
The response from friends and residents has been overwhelming, said Bruce, which he attributes to Doc being a genuine man of his words.
“He’s a cowboy. And he’s fair and honest and he lives by the code of the west.”
Indeed, Doc dedicated his life to the promotion of Ponoka’s biggest stage, the Ponoka Stampede, and his hard work helped put the town and the rodeo on the international map. Ponoka is considered a prime stop on the rodeo circuit in North America.
In August 2014 Doc was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In January 2015 Doc underwent surgery to remove a portion of his colon. However, the cancer then spread to his liver. The next January Doc had an additional surgery to remove the mass from his liver.
There was a lot of hope after that, said Bruce as Doc was taking chemotherapy treatment every three weeks. The cancer wasn’t going away but it wasn’t getting ahead of him either.
Things were going well until a heart attack hit Doc in August 2018.
Bruce remembers that day like it was yesterday. It was the Friday morning of the August long-weekend. Bruce was at the Olds Hospital being prepped for a shoulder surgery to be scheduled later on.
He then was on his way home at around noon when he received a call from Doc asking how his morning went. Bruce told him and then Doc explained how his day went. “He said, ‘I have one better story.’”
Doc went out that morning to feed the horses some oats when he had serious heart pains and was clutching his chest. The next thing he knew Doc was being taken to the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre to be taken by STARS Air Ambulance for surgery.
Doc woke up with two stents in him to deal with the heart attack. Bruce will never forget what Doc said next.
“In that classic Doc Harbin chuckle with that shit-eating grin and he says, ‘You do me a favour. You tell that Joe Dodds that I got more work done before lunch than he ever will,’” stated Bruce. “That’s how Doc told me about his heart attack”
This is exactly how Doc lived his life but for Bruce it’s bitter sweet. “I think the heart troubles did him in. It was a dirty trick.”
For now the family is dealing with the loss of a father and brother.
“It’s all pretty fresh but my dad and I were really close and we had a good father son relationship,” said Bruce.
“I’ve always been able to hear his voice in the back of my head on every decision I make.”
One thing the entire family is grateful for is the strong outpouring of support. “He’s going to be missed by lots of people and probably no more than me and my sister.”
Doc’s celebration of life is set for March 18 at 1 p.m. at the Calnash Ag Event Centre.