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In memoriam: August 2020

In memoriam: August 2020

Bette Torrible, former professor (Physiotherapy), died April 16. 

A tribute to Bette Torrible
By Jennifer Sivilotti, PT'96

Elizabeth (Bette) Torrible passed away this spring at age 86.  Although not a Queen’s graduate (she attended the U of T Physiotherapy–Occupational Therapy program), Bette is fondly remembered by many Queen’s physiotherapy students and staff.  She played a significant role in educating future physiotherapists by providing both lectures, practical sessions and student placements for decades, right up until her retirement in 1997. Bette introduced us to cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, hydrotherapy, hippotherapy/therapeutic horseback riding, and NDT/Bobath techniques, and she organized the ever-popular “baby day,”during which students had a chance to spend time with some adorable infants who volunteered their time to teach us about gross motor development.

Bette was hired by Ongwanada (now a Kingston-based Developmental Services Agency, formerly a residential institution) in 1974, as the first physiotherapist of the “Kinsmen Rehabilitation Clinic.”  Long before it was a commonly held societal belief, Bette recognized the potential of children with developmental disabilities to achieve goals and increase independence, and she wholeheartedly believed in the vital role physiotherapy could play in helping to improve quality of life. At a time when most children with mobility impairments were often carried by caregivers from place to place, Bette (first with the help of Ongwanada carpenter Reg Beck and later with the help of local orthotist Hugh Barclay), began customizing wheelchairs to suit the positioning and mobility needs of every child.  Bette was instrumental in helping Hugh Barclay develop the concept of the “tilt chair,” in order to combat the effect of gravity on a seated person, as well the development of the “supine transporter,” which provided functional mobility for those unable to be positioned in sitting at all. 

A firm believer in the healing power of water, Bette advocated strongly for hydrotherapy to be available to all who would benefit.  At first hydrotherapy for residents of Ongwanada took place in blow-up kiddie pools, bathtubs, Jacuzzi tubs and a Hubbard tank. Later Bette helped design a therapeutic pool that was built at the Ongwanada Resource Centre in 1989.  This warm-water, wheelchair-accessible pool is still used today by people of all abilities in the Kingston community.

A lifelong learner, Bette helped bring Roberta and Karl Bobath to Kingston for the first local Bobath Neuro-developmental therapy course in 1977.  She organized several hydrotherapy courses at the Ongwanada pool and was a member of the Kingston Neuro Interest group for many years.

Although leading a very busy life, Bette also made time for volunteering her physiotherapy skills.  She was part of a dedicated team providing hippotherapy (physiotherapy on horseback) to children and adults with disabilities in the Kingston area and was a life member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.  In the 1990s Bette travelled to India for several weeks with a team from Queen’s Rehab to share her professional expertise with a community-based rehabilitation program.   

Although Bette retired from Ongwanada 23 years ago, she is still very fondly remembered by many of the individuals who she worked with as children and young adults, as well as by the staff who worked alongside her.  An individual who is supported by Ongwanada recently recalled who Bette was “the physio!” and had these words to share: “She took me in the pool. She was very special. I liked her. She was a good lady.”   Bette’s passion for her chosen profession and for improving the quality of life of the people she supported was evident in all that she did.  Her accomplishments were many, her bright smile genuine and contagious.  She made a lasting impression on everyone who had the good fortune to meet her.

[photo of Bette Torrible at Ongwanada]
Bette in the pool in 1997 with Sharon, a person who is supported by Ongwanada.

As part of Bette’s ongoing contribution to the Queen’s community, a scholarship has been established, the Torrible Goldman Sachs Scholarship, which is awarded to eligible full-time students in the Master of Science (Physical Therapy) program.

An obituary for Bette Torrible is available on the Kingston Whig-Standard website.






John Gordon, MBA’63, Professor Emeritus and former Dean (Business), died April 27. An obituary for Dr. Gordon is in the Keeping in touch section of the August 2020 issue.

David Symington, Professor Emeritus (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation), died May 27. Predeceased by his wife, Evelyn, and daughter Louise, David is survived by children Vivien (Merle), Merril (Henny), David, Donald (Catherine), Claire (John), and extended family.

[photo of David Symington]
David Symington

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he graduated from the University of Glasgow medical school in 1951 and completed residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in London, England in 1955. David, along with Evelyn and three children at that time emigrated to Vancouver in 1957 where he was the assistant medical director at the G. F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre and Greater Vancouver Cerebral Palsy Clinic. The family moved to Seattle, Washington in 1962 where David was an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Washington. He was recruited in 1966 by Queen’s University to establish the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He was the founding professor and head of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Queen’s University and the founding director of the Regional Rehabilitation Centre for Eastern Ontario from 1966 until 1982.  During this time, he initiated and established teaching programs at Queen’s University in occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

Throughout his career he was involved in numerous committees locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, including being a member of the World Health Organization, Expert Advisory Panel on Rehabilitation, and the National Research Council of Canada. He was invited as a visiting professor, lecturer and keynote speaker by numerous universities and hospitals across Canada and the United States and numerous countries including Sweden, Poland, Switzerland, Scotland, Portugal, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, and New Zealand. His publications include one book, 19 journal articles, and over 50 briefs and monographs. He was a leader in vocational rehabilitation services and strongly believed in and advocated for giving people with disabilities support in returning to independence and community living. “People with disabilities need a hand up, not a handout” was his common refrain.

David always had a twinkle in his eye and a warm and welcoming personality. He was quick to laugh, take you for a turn on the dance floor, sit and have a long chat, sing you a song, quote poetry, or go for long walks (in any weather). He had a fierce interest in the well-being of others, was a man of great intelligence and wisdom, generosity, magnanimity, adventurous spirit, courage, moral and ethical clarity and compassion. David loved to garden, read voraciously, was always ready for a good meal, and for many years had a dog by his side.

He was a visionary and global leader in the practice and teaching of Rehabilitation Medicine. He is fondly remembered and respected by his former students, patients, staff, and friends. An absolute treasure to all he met.

Bruce Buchan, Professor Emeritus (Business), died June 6.

Obituaries are posted on this page as we receive them. If you have memories of these professors you would like to share, please email us.

[cover image of the Queen's Alumni Review issue 3, 2020, featuring Anita Jack-Davies]