Dear Zachary

A couple of weeks ago, during consult psych rounds, in the middle of a discussion on when psychiatrists had a duty to report mental illnesses in other medical professionals – a very interesting conversation, I should mention – one of my preceptors mentioned that she’d been a classmate of “that murder suicide.” Now, I’m not from Newfoundland originally, and so I’d not heard of such a thing.  I’d intended to go home and google it, but life got the way, and it didn’t get brought up until a couple weeks later when my track mates were waiting for a lecture to begin, and I mentioned it offhand.

My classmate responded; “Oh, the Dear Zachary thing.”

Now Dear Zachary was something that rang vaguely familiar; I love documentaries, and I could recall distantly seeing the name Dear Zachary on one of those ’25 Documentaries You Must Watch Before You Die’ list, but I’d never gotten around to it.  My interest was good and peaked then, so I went looking for it that night (there is a full version on youtube, though given that it’s uploaded illegally I’m neither recommending it or endorsing it, just mentioning it), and watched it to see what this whole thing was about.

I think it’s possible I only just stopped crying.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father about the life of MUN graduate Dr. Andrew Babgy, as told by the people who loved him, collected by his friend, the film maker as an attempt to give Zachary, Bagby’s son with the woman – MUN graduate Dr. Shirley Turner – who murdered him, born after his death, a piece of his father back.  This is certainly not a a movie review, but I will say that, although the film is certainly not as slick or polished as many other great documentaries I’ve seen – some of the symbolism is rather blunt force trauma – it’s also a truly unique documentary in terms of the classic ‘crime doc.’ It truly focuses on Andrew’s life as a person, rather than a murder victim, and looks truly at the impact that one person’s life – and death – can have on all the people around them.

It’s also an incredibly sad documentary, and although I’d recommend it to everyone, it’s only for days when you know you can handle some righteous rage and a good cry, because the reality of the situation surrounding the Bagby case is a true tragedy, with no real light at the end of the tunnel, though the film maker deserves credit for his attempt at a hopeful ending.

I think what struck me most though, about their story, beyond the painful injustice of it all, was a shot in the documentary of this wall:


With this picture centre:


I took these two pictures when I was at the school for teaching. They’re on a much walked thoroughfare; between ‘bake sale alley’ and the long way to the cafeteria, as well as one of the main hallways to the hospital. I’ve probably walked past them a thousand times and never known the story.  Andrew Bagby enjoyed photography; it was this realization that set his friend Kurt, the film maker, who had not known this about him to set off and make the film, to discover the other things about his friend he didn’t know, and what made the people he loved set up a memorial award for the school, for a photo and bursary.  Fittingly enough, this Friday, I got an email reminding us about submitting a photo for the contest, and perhaps I will submit one this year.

Regardless, Dear Zachary is ultimately about the impact that one person can have on so many lives, and as a movie it certainly succeeds in that. I’ll never walk by that wall the same way again, without thinking, for a second about the impact Andrew Babgy had on the people who loved him, and the terrible injustice of it all.  Life is so terribly short, and if I end up having half an impact on people as he did, I think I’ll have lived a very full life indeed.

3 thoughts on “Dear Zachary

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