Dr. Anita Foley has left an indelible mark on healthcare in her beloved Guysborough County – a legacy of unwavering care and compassion for her patients and their well-being.
“It was unbelievable – profound and deep,” Bill Innis said of his long-time friend’s dedication.
Noting there are countless examples of that devotion, he recalled a seven-month stretch in 1992, when Foley maintained office hours, provided service to in-patients and was on-call overnight in the Guysborough Memorial Hospital emergency room.
“It was 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Innis said.
“You wouldn’t see that today.”
Although she always went “above and beyond,” he said she, as often, downplayed her effort.
“She would say, ‘I am just doing my job,” Innis added.
Foley, who practiced for more than 40 years, died May 25.
“It is definitely a huge loss – she was a fine lady and a pillar of the community,” Darrell Grant said, adding her “patients always came first.”
He also described her as a “driving force,” when it came to maintaining and improving the local hospital.
Along with providing loving attention to patients, Foley served as chief of staff and coroner for the hospital, and was a member of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital Foundation board of directors.
“Talk about commitment – the well-being of her patients and the hospital were always first and foremost in her mind,” Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Warden Vernon Pitts said.
Describing her network of connections with healthcare professionals as “second to none,” he added, Foley had the “tenacity of a bulldog,” when it came to achieving results for her patients and the hospital.
“She never took ‘no’ for an answer,” he said.
Grant added “no one will ever replace her.”
Guysborough Eastern Shore Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines said Foley “left a legacy to local healthcare that will live on, even though she’s no longer with us.”
“Let us remember her for the amazing person and doctor she was, her commitment to rural healthcare, all the good she did and what she meant to so many of us,” the former MODG warden added in a statement.
Foley, who grew up in Antigonish, graduated from St. F.X. with a science degree, before continuing her studies at the University of Toronto, where she completed a Masters in Science in Nutrition.
After two years teaching in Tanzania, Africa, as part of the CUSO movement, she returned to Canada and became an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Windsor.
From there, she enrolled in medical school at Dalhousie University, graduating in 1975.
Foley started her medical practice in 1976 in Guysborough, one she continued until 2018.
“It was still a time when there weren’t many female doctors, especially in rural Nova Scotia,” Innis said.
Nevertheless, he added, Foley “won over” the salty fishermen and others in those communities .
“They became some of her strongest supporters,” Innis noted.
He said that a reflection of their loyalty came each lobster fishing season, when there were many deliveries of the tasty crustacean to her home.
“It was unreal,” Innis added, with a laugh.
One of her colleagues in those early years was Dr. Cathy Kelly, who practiced with Foley in Guysborough for six-and-a-half years.
“She was an incredible mentor,” Kelly said, describing herself at that time as “pretty green.”
“I can’t describe how much I learned from her and what our time together meant to my career,” she added.
Kelly recalled there were many times Foley, a renowned diagnostician, provided her expertise over the phone.
“She never failed,” Kelly said.
She noted Foley’s “incredible dedication,” which included ongoing education in the field, along with providing her knowledge to and working with medical students and nurses.
Foley also actively participated in regional and district medical advisory committees.
“We had an extremely good working relationship and an incredible friendship,” Kelly said.
She fondly remembered her visits with Foley in Guysborough, ones highlighted by great food and conversation.
“Her table would be covered with books,” Kelly said, recalling her friend’s passion for taking art history courses – a lifelong learner to be sure.
“I would joke with her that it was time to leave so she could finish her paper,” she added.
And, a decade or so ago, there was an unforgettable trip to Italy with Foley and some other friends.
“It was quite an education,” Kelly said, noting her friend’s guidance through churches and frescos, while sharing her encyclopedic knowledge.
She noted Foley “completely supported me in every part of my life,” including hosting her wedding rehearsal party.
“She has been a great friend and she was always there to help me in any way,” Kelly said.
Innis, who serves as chair of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital Foundation, said one of the fondest memories of his friend came almost three years ago.
On that mid-July afternoon, the community gathered for the unveiling of a renovation project at the hospital, which included the Dr. Anita Foley Health Services Centre.
He remembered her “absolute joy” that day, having the opportunity to share that moment with family, friends, hospital staff and patients.
“It took a while,” Innis noted of the effort to convince Foley to accept the recognition.
“And, she did it so humbly,” he added.
When the hospital renovation project began, Grant said his organization – Eastern Light Masonic Lodge – thought it provided a perfect opportunity to honour Foley.
He noted they canvassed other organizations in the county, including churches, fire departments and other service organizations, which also put their weight behind the call. They sent letters to the provincial health minister and advocated in other ways.
“It was a great community effort, one that she truly deserved,” Grant said.
Along with the hospital wing that bears her name, Foley garnered several other honours during her career, including the Medical Society of Nova Scotia Physician of the Year Award and the Rural Service Award of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.
In 2006, her alma mater – St. F.X. – granted her an honorary degree.
Hundreds of people from across the province gathered May 31 in Guysborough for Foley’s funeral, which took place at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church.
It was also live-streamed at the Chedabucto Place Performance Centre.
After the funeral, a eulogy followed by a reception took place at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex.
“I never thought we would be talking about her being gone – to me, she was invincible,” Kelly said.