Photo of Debbie Hébert

Honouring Debbie Hébert

It is with great sadness that we let you know that Debbie Hébert, our cherished friend and colleague in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto, passed away in the evening of March 19 from cancer.  As you can imagine, our department is devastated.

Debbie was an inspirational clinician, teacher, researcher and colleague both at U of T and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.  She will be deeply missed as a friend, leader, mentor and colleague.

Debbie 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 numerous publications and implementation of research. Debbie has been described as an ideal enabler of knowledge translation, as she was 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, provided practical tools for clinicians and client education, and transformed the practice of countless student OTs, OTAs and OTs over the years as well as colleagues in other health professions.

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 up to date knowledge and skills that allow them to provide the best possible therapy to their clients. Her teaching has influenced over 3000 individuals. Many who learned from Debbie and benefited her mentorship and have gone on to become leaders themselves. Her contributions to the profession of OT were honoured in 2012 with a life-time membership to the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists. This is one of many accolades she has received.

Those of us who have had the good fortune to be friends and colleagues of Debbie remember her for her enormous generosity of spirit, her warmth, love, caring and of course her smile, humour and contagious laughter.

We are in the process of planning ways to honour Debbie’s life and legacy and a celebration of her life will be held at a later date when we are able to gather. Details of these will be shared when they are available.

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

Deirdre R. Dawson
Interim Chair, Department of Occupational Science &Occupational Therapy