‘He was greatly loved’: family and friends gather to honour Dwight Whitehead with Memorial Feast

A photo of Dwight Whitehead sits on the brick fireplace mantle at Pioneer Hall on the Prince Albert Exhibition Grounds. Whitehead’s family and friends gathered on Monday to hold a Memorial Feast in his honour. Whitehead was found dead in a wooded area near Victoria Hospital one year ago. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Keeshia Ray has been cooking since 10:30 a.m., but she has no complaints.

After 5 p.m., she’s still in the Pioneer Hall kitchen on the Prince Albert Exhibition grounds mashing potatoes for family and friends who have come to honour her former partner, Dwight Whitehead.

“I’ll be doing this for as long as they want me,” she says. “It’s all worth it … but it would be better if he was here.”

Monday was Whitehead’s birthday. It also marked one year since his father, Wayne Whitehead, reported him missing. Eight days later, ground searchers found his body in a wooded area not far away from Victoria Hospital.

On Monday evening, friends and family members packed the Pioneer Hall for a Memorial Feast to honour Dwight, and remembered the person he was.

“He was greatly loved,” said Eunice Lewis, Dwight’s aunt. “Everybody has nothing but good memories about him. He was just happy. He was very generous with his time. He was very patient. He was a very good man.”

The memorial feast included a slide show of pictures and videos from Dwight’s life. By the fireplace, family members placed a photo of Dwight beaming on his high school graduation day.

“He had a lot of struggles, but was just the kindest, gentlest man there was,” said Derrick Sanderson, Dwight’s stepfather. “He would help anybody. It didn’t matter if he was walking down the street and he saw somebody (in need) he would help somebody. That’s just how he was. If you ever called him and asked him for help, he would be there in a heartbeat.”

Dwight went missing after leaving Victoria Hospital on Jan. 2, 2023. Afterwards, his brother Craig and a few family friends searched the area around the hospital hoping to find him.

On Jan. 13, 2023, Dwight’s mother, Gloria Sanderson, asked police to begin ground searches in the West Hill and West Flat.

Derrick was one of the volunteers who took part in the search to find Whitehead’s body. He said the leadup to Monday’s Memorial Feast was difficult.

“(At this time last year) we were halfway through our search already,” Derrick remembered. “We found him on the 16th so that would have been the first week of our search here. It’s just been a really emotional day.”

Dwight’s death sparked a debate about when patients can leave a hospital. In an interview just days after his disappearance, Gloria Sanderson said Prince Albert police officers found her son freezing in a snowbank and took him to hospital at around 11:30 a.m. where he was treated for hypothermia.

Keeshia Ray mashes some potatoes in preparation for a Memorial Feast held in honour of Dwight Whitehead, the Prince Albert man who went missing and was later found dead after leaving Victoria Hospital against his doctor’s advice one year ago. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Gloria said Dwight left the hospital that evening against his doctor’s wishes. He was last seen just after 6 p.m. that day in the area around the 1200 block of 24th Street West.

In the days that followed, the Saskatchewan Health Authority faced questions about why Dwight was allowed to leave the hospital. The SHA declined to comment on the specifics of the case citing privacy concerns, but issued a statement saying hospital staff had no grounds to detain him.

“The SHA recognizes the right of every individual to refuse care, treatment or medication,” reads the SHA statement. “If a patient/client wishes to leave against the advice of a care provider the medical risks shall be explained to the patient/client or those responsible for them.”

One year later, Dwight’s friends and family are still upset with the response. Although some suggested the family file a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, they have so far declined to do so.

“I think the whole healing process just took precedence over pursuing anything,” Derrick said.

However, there is still frustration. Lewis said hospitals should be more accountable for how they treat patients like her nephew, especially in the colder months of the year.

“Having people who are possibly under the influence or on a very cold night and need that care, they should be able to receive it,” she said. “Before they let him go, the way they did, they should have called next of kin.”

Dwight Whitehead was 32 years old when he died. He left behind two daughters, Breanna and Leah.