this week i learned of the passing of an old family friend, dr. sheela basrur or just sheela (obituary is the previous entry)...she was a fixture in my grandparent's house on oak street in guelph when i was very little...i remember being the third wheel in the friendship of my aunt donna (whom some readers may recall died suddenly two years ago at the age of 49) and sheela...i was always in tow when those two went riding bikes, for walks in the field behind the house, when 'aunt denise' would suddenly make an 'appearance' from my grandparent's closet wearing my grandma's clothes, i was the victim who lost her heart and other body parts during mock operations on my granny's drafting table, i was also the unfortunate passenger who was often tossed to the floor during our pretend airplane games, dancing in the basement, roller-skating and so many other memories from what was the most happy time during my life...sheela taught me a 'fancy' way to colour and i suspect that 'fancy' way lead me to living la vida loca as an artist today...so many memories, such carefree happiness...the passing of sheela two years after the death of my aunt donna makes me wonder...i won't articulate that thought but i just wonder many things while looking this photo of sheela, donna and myself at the cottage near sauble beach...the year was around 1968...we were young, happy and looking forward to going swimming, eating chips and staying up late while granny made a bon fire...those were the days!...i really hope that sheela and donna are somewhere having a blast together!...
Dr. Sheela Basrur passed away peacefully on June 2 at 1:16 pm at Grand River Regional Cancer Centre, Kitchener, Ontario with close family members at her side.
Dr. Basrur is survived by her daughter Simone, her mother Parvathi (Pari), her father Vasanth, her sister Jyothi, her nieces Natasha and Nina, by Simone’s father Peter Koves and by friends, colleagues and admirers across Ontario, Canada and beyond.
Dr. Basrur died as she had lived: with honesty and courage. Her fight with leiomyosarcoma was a fight she shared with the world upon stepping down from her position as Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario on December 6, 2006 to undergo treatment for this rare form of Cancer. Her willingness to speak openly of her personal challenge served as an inspiration to so many others whose lives are affected by cancer.
On April 10th, 2008, Dr. Basrur was awarded Ontario’s highest honour, The Order of Ontario, at a special ceremony held at her bedside and presided over by the Honourable Lieutenant Governor David C. Onley .
This was followed very shortly after with what would be one of her final public appearances, with Premier Dalton McGuinty and Deputy Premier George Smitherman, where they addressed the Annual Conference of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. Her speech delivered from the heart received a standing ovation from over 6000 nurses from all parts of healthcare and public health.
This honour was the crowning achievement in a career and a life led to the full. Lived with passion, humour, commitment and a desire to change the world in which we live for the better.
She achieved international recognition for her calm and unflinching handling of the 2003 SARS crisis while serving as Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto. Sheela Basrur was, however, so much more than “the SARS lady” as a child in a supermarket had once called her.
Dr. Basrur was a devoted mother who cared deeply for her daughter and her family and would be passionate about protecting time to attend concerts with Simone even whilst facing a gruelling workload and multiple competing demands.
Born in Toronto, Canada on October 17, 1956 to parents Vasanth and Pari, young graduate students from Karnataka and Kerala in South India, Dr. Basrur began her education at the University of Western Ontario where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1979, and went on to receive her degree in Medicine from the University of Toronto in 1982.
Dr. Basrur was exposed to the extreme realities of the social factors shaping health while in India and Nepal in 1983. She was inspired by the need to work upstream on the factors behind poor health in populations. Dr. Basrur returned from India and Nepal to Canada, and with her experience of rural health projects in Maharastra state in India, completed a Master of Health Sciences in Community Medicine in 1987, from the University of Toronto. She then went on to be appointed Medical Officer of Health at the East York Health Unit.
In 1998, Dr. Basrur became the first Medical Officer of Health for the newly merged City of Toronto. In this post, Dr. Basrur championed a range of progressive moves by the City including implementing DineSafe, a new restaurant inspection system, taking aggressive moves to curb smoking in restaurants, pioneering work on pesticide control - all the time attempting to ensure that information and services were available and targeted to an increasingly ethnically diverse population.
In 2004, Dr. Basrur was appointed the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the first in the history of the province to be appointed by the Legislative Assembly. In her time as Chief Medical Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister for Public Health, Dr. Basrur exemplified the resolve required to speak the truth.
Her work on tobacco control included the groundbreaking Smokefree Ontario legislation passed in 2006, the establishment of Ontario’s first ever arms-length Agency for Health Protection and Promotion established in 2007, a 2005 report to the Legislature that honestly and frankly told of the challenges and work required to rebuild the Ontario public health system.
As Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Basrur also released a major report on childhood obesity sparking attention and action on the increasing health threat it posed. All of these achievements and many more earned Sheela the Amethyst Award, the highest award granted to a member of the Ontario Public Service.
All these awards and honours, bestowed on Dr. Basrur, can never fully capture the person she was. She was awarded honourary Doctorate degrees from Ryerson University and York University, and a similar event was planned by the University of Toronto this month.
Sheela Basrur is mourned by her daughter, her family and friends, her colleagues. Ontario and Canada have lost a brave and gracious leader.
The family is holding a private ceremony in the days to follow. A public celebration of Sheela’s life will be arranged in ensuing weeks.
Sheela had requested the donations be sent, in lieu of flowers, to the Grand River Hospital Foundation
Grand River Hospital Foundation 835 King St. W Kitchener, ON N2G 1G3 Ph: 519-749-4205 Fax: 519-749-4354 Online giving: www.grhf.org Donations should be marked “inpatient oncology equipment”
Condolences may be forwarded to the family through the Erb & Good Family Funeral Home, 171 King Street South, Waterloo Ontario, N2J 1P7, 519-745-8445 or www.erbgood.com
i was born in a big city in ontario when the air quality was still good and litter wasn’t seen on the ground. the childhood that followed my birth was average for a canadian girl growing up in a small town in the early seventies. bell bottoms, dorothy hamil hairstyle and a banana seat bicycle were some of the things that i had, along with a box of crayons with a built-in pencil sharpener. i carried my crayons everywhere and drew all the time on almost everything. years later after puberty took its’ hold on me and changed my outlook on life permanently, i found myself leaving the small town for the bright lights of the big smoke where i enrolled in the fine arts programme at a university. i stayed on as a student for sometime then found myself disillusioned with the lack of inspiration that came from the faculty. so i left to find a mentor, someone who would inspire me, teach me, guide my creativity to find its' own voice. that mentor was found in the many books i’ve acquired over the years. i’ve found my inspiration through my travels and spending time following the footsteps of some of my ‘heroes’ of the art world.