Professor Debbie Hébert, our cherished friend and colleague in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto, passed away in March 2020 from cancer.
Debbie was an inspirational clinician, teacher, researcher and colleague at U of T and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. She practiced as an OT for more than 40 years, completing her OT training at the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. She taught in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy for more than 25 years. Her passion was neurorehabilitation: She was a leader in this area through her outstanding education of students and clinicians as well as authorship of numerous publications and implementation of research. Debbie has been described as an ideal enabler of knowledge translation, as the “bridge” who enabled integration of research and daily practice.
Debbie has had a tremendous impact on the profession of OT in many ways. From very early in her professional career, she led the way for best practice by chairing professional interest groups and establishing best-practice groups. She led a group of more than 40 interprofessional clinicians and researchers for the 2015 update of the Canadian stroke best practice recommendations, integrating her exceptional clinical and research expertise. Her work has contributed to policy development and provided practical tools for clinicians and client education; her work has transformed the practice of countless student OTs, OTAs and OTs, as well as colleagues in other health professions, over the years.
Debbie’s teaching was always informed by her commitment to best practice. She worked tirelessly to ensure that her OT students and, through continuing education courses, OT professionals were provided with the most current knowledge and skills that allow them to provide the best possible therapy to their clients. Her teaching has influenced over 3000 individuals. She supervised more than 100 graduate students in their major research projects, theses and dissertations. Many who learned from Debbie and benefitted from her mentorship have become leaders themselves. Among the many accolades she has received include a life-time membership to the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists in 2012 for her distinguished service and a Clinical Excellence in Education Award in 2017 from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network for outstanding contributions to education.
Those of us who have had the good fortune to be friends and/or colleagues of Debbie remember her for her enormous generosity of spirit, her warmth, love, caring, and of course her smile, humour and contagious laughter.
A celebration of Professor Hébert’s life will be held when we are able to gather.
Debbie will be greatly missed by many. Please take a moment to remember her … and because we know this would make her smile, a brief lyric from Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams”:
Big wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams