Guysborough mourns loss of Dr. Anita Foley

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Role model, mentor, teacher, doctor; these are just a few of the words used to describe Dr. Anita Foley. The stalwart supporter of Guysborough and surrounding areas, who served the community as a family physician for over four decades, passed away on Saturday, May 25 leaving the community, friends and family bereft at such a loss.

Dr. Foley came to Guysborough to practice medicine as a recent graduate of the Dalhousie Medical School in 1976. But medicine wasn't her first calling, she had initially pursued a career in nutrition. After completing a B.Sc. from StFX in Antigonish and a M.Sc. in Nutrition from the University of Toronto, she joined CUSO, teaching students in Tanzania, Africa, for two years moving on to teach nutrition at the University of Windsor. She found her way to medicine by way of advice from one of her sisters who suggested dentistry, which didn't suit her, but led her to the Dalhousie School of Medicine.

As news of Dr. Foley's passing has moved through the community, there has been much reflection on her impact on the lives of those in this region. She's helped many travel through the journey of life, assisting in their comings and goings, making the path less painful along the way.

Dr. Foley was known for her straight-forward bedside manner. She was trusted and respected by both colleagues and patients. She was a tireless advocate for patients and for health care in Guysborough County. It was in large part through her efforts and influence that Guysborough has had and maintained medical services and staff over the years.

She has seen generations come and go and most people who have ever lived in the Guysborough area have a story to tell about Dr. Foley; the way she'd call you dear when she met you on the street, her dry humour, and most of all the times she saved or comforted those in pain, death and grief.

Although it seemed like Dr. Foley was always on hand, she did find time to pursue other interests. She was a life-long learner who continued to take classes at StFX, an institution which granted her an Honorary Doctorate in 2006. She could often be found in the MacDonald Library, book open and glasses sliding down her nose with her attention fully devoted to what was on the page.

She also loved travel. Dr. Foley put a pin in many continents over the years. Sometimes her travels brought her to the flash point of history as when she witnessed the beginnings of the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square in 2011. In an interview shortly after that adventure, Dr. Foley described the scene, “All night long we could hear rifle and sub-machine shots and army tanks going up and down and the sound of the protestors. It was very exciting.”

Dr. Foley was a woman of faith and she combined that with her love of travel and her devotion to medicine in mission trips overseas. Most recently she travelled with Health Teams International to the Dominican Republic to help support a dental clinic. She'd also gone on medical mission trips to Peru and Cambodia. When asked why she chose to spend her vacation time working she said, “People are poorly off and you want to be able to make some kind of contribution to the world before you die. So if I can go and do anything I'll go.”

Many accolades and honours were presented to Dr. Foley over her long career but perhaps none were more meaningful than the naming the new wing of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital as the Dr. Anita Foley Health Services Centre. At the grand opening ceremony of the new centre in June of 2016 local MLA and former municipal warden Lloyd Hines said of Dr. Foley, “How long is a lifetime? Because that is what this woman has given us; a lifetime.”

Dr. Foley was nothing if not devoted to the hospital and her patients. She could be found at the hospital most days and would drop in often even after announcing her semi-retirement several years ago; a retirement that didn't really stick until she officially retired last year.

If Dr. Foley was privy to the conversations surrounding her passing and the many fine words spoken in her memory she would undoubtably repeat the sentiments that she expressed when the new hospital wing was named after her in 2016, “I'm no saint and I'm no Albert Einstein. I am just an ordinary person...It's very humbling to be honoured in that way.”

Words cannot fully describe what Dr. Foley meant to the people of Guysborough. Her name and that of the community are indelibly linked in the hearts and minds of many. She devoted her life to this corner of Nova Scotia and will forever be remembered along these shores.