Tribute to Deborah Ann Hébert, 1954-2020

photo of Deborah Ann Hébert, 1954-2020

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

5 thoughts on “Tribute to Deborah Ann Hébert, 1954-2020

  1. Linda van Omme

    Deb was a great friend at Western. Funny, encouraging, modest, and brilliant. I remember being invited to visit with she and her family one holliday weekend when I was far from my maritime home , and being made so welcome, like I had been part of the family forever. My sympathy to that lovely family on the loss of such a great person. She made a difference.

  2. Pat McKee

    To me, the words that best describe Debbie are passionate and fun-loving. She was passionate about excellence in education for students and therapists, and in therapy for clients. She was a dedicated educator and occupational therapist. She was passionate about friendships and having a great time with friends and family.
    Faculty and staff were gifted on many occasions by the hilarious roasts she delivered. She had a delightful sense of humour. I loved working with her and being with her.
    As much as her colleagues and friends at the university miss her, I realize that it pales with how much her family misses her.
    Debbie’s contributions are far-reaching, important, much appreciated and enduring.

  3. Nella Campisi

    Debbie was kind loving and full of life. I am honoured to have been one of her colleagues. Miss you dearly Deb.

  4. Marina

    Debbie was most compassionate and kindhearted person. She was a brilliant OT and phenomenal teacher. I am so lucky she was my research supervisor during the program.

  5. Sonia Hopwood

    Debbie was such a wonderful person; kind and genuine. I am so glad to celebrate you Debbie!

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