Dr. Sheela Basrur’s unparalleled leadership is an inspiration

Unexpected emergencies reveal the strength and quality of leadership of any organization. Such was the case with the SARS epidemic in Toronto in 2003.

And such was the case with Dr. Sheela Basrur, who, as Medical Officer of Health for Toronto, excelled both in the management of disease containment as well as in communicating with the public at large. Hers was the daily voice and face of calm amid a viral outbreak gripping the city which ultimately killed 44 people.

Many awards, accolades and further responsibilities followed for Dr. Basrur: Health Minister George Smitherman appointed her Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and Assistant Deputy Minister in the public health division in 2004.

When Basrur appeared at Queen’s Park in December 2006 to hear the announcement of a new Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, the province’s first arm’s length public health agency, MPPs gave her a standing ovation. The agency is to be named the Sheela Basrur Centre and, this spring, Minister Smitherman announced it will be located in Phase II of the MaRS Centre.

This past week Dr. Basrur died at age 51 of a rare form of cancer. Students, colleagues, members of the public: we are all deeply saddened by the loss. The tributes to her skill, commitment and courage continue to pour in, filling the city’s airwaves and newspapers across the country as well as inspiring some moving blog posts like this one.

Dr. Basrur will not be forgotten. Her legacy in public health is an inspiration to all of us who aim to make the world a healthier place.