Donna Mae Atkinson

June 17, 1948May 6, 2022
Obituary of Donna Mae Atkinson
~ Donna Atkinson, likely this country's longest serving X-ray and diagnostic technician, most certainly the matriarch in N.S., passed away at the Halifax Infirmary shortly after 11a.m., Friday, May 6, surrounded by photographs, memories and loved ones. Diagnosed with cancer in January weeks after working what would be her last shift on New Year's Day, Donna died as she had lived with grace and dignity. She faced the obscenity of cancer with the courage of a lion and without an ounce of self-pity. What's important is not how Donna died but how she lived. Born in Halifax, June 17, 1948, she was the daughter and only child of Ruth Johnstone, originally of Sydney and Donald Urquhart, originally of London, Ontario. Ruthie wanted a boy, "Puppy" wanted a girl. He got her, all eight pounds, 10oz. From her mother Donna inherited her own brand of candor; from her father, a teenage World War II bomber pilot she inherited fearlessness. Donna was the last surviving member of her immediate family, predeceased by both parents; Ruthie's sister Aunt Muriel, her husband Les Choyce and her much older cousin John Choyce, of Montreal. A banker's daughter, Donna moved across the province from Halifax to Lunenburg, to Antigonish, back to Halifax, to Yarmouth, and finally to Wolfville. By the time she was 16 she had lived at eight different addresses, making it difficult for Donna to forge lasting childhood friendships. In Lunenburg nobody wanted to rent to a young couple with a newborn until Harry Rodenhiser stepped up, henceforth to be known as "Uncle Harry". Donna learned to talk in Lunenburg, was just picking up that delightful South Shore accent when the family moved to Antigonish where Donna started school. They were a tight knit trio. Neither Puppy or Ruthie would ever leave the other without a kiss goodbye. This was the world in which this precious child discovered values which would remain with her a lifetime. Donna graduated from Sir Charles Tupper Elementary, Cornwallis Junior High and Yarmouth Consolidated High. In Yarmouth she enrolled in gymnastics. While the other kids were doing somersaults and cartwheels, double-jointed Donna was walking on her hands and standing on her head. Then came the move to Wolfville. Donna enrolled in Acadia in 1967, excelled in physics, chemistry, biology. She aspired to be a gym teacher. But when admission to the Dal physical education program was full she had to find another way to get back to Halifax where she had taken a shine to a young Atkinson boy. When her dad mentioned a bursary program for something called X-ray technology Donna seized the opportunity. She graduated as a member of the V.G. X-ray Class of 1969. Alas, there were no X-ray jobs in Halifax at the time. Donna took a job helping to set up a new Birks Jewelry store in this new mall called Scotia Square. Donna worked her tail off, 10, 12 hours a day. She had no choice with a February 28, 1970 wedding planned with her business type beau. Then in January after all her months of hard work the manager took her aside, "Ms. Urquhart your services are no longer required." Soon after a position opened up at the V.G. Later her new husband was transferred to Toronto. Donna was hired at the Toronto General where she spent four months. "It was just too big, too impersonal, I cried every night when I got home," she would say. She was scooped up by the Toronto Women's College Hospital. She loved the more intimate setting. But she was never a big city girl, even though she had some nice neighbors on the 25th floor of her Alexander St. high rise overlooking Maple Leaf Gardens. One guy, likely taking notice of her hot pink hotpants, white go-go boots and a cat on each shoulder even promised to teach her guitar. But Donna never did take Gordon Lightfoot up on his kind offer. With her first Toronto paychecks Donna put on layaway an eight piece set of antique dishes for mom Ruthie at the cost of $100; for dad Puppy she put on layaway two pairs of men's stylish dress boots which were just coming into fashion in the swinging 70's. In Donna's words, "It was the first time I could buy for my parents something over $10. It was my best Christmas ever. I was so proud." She worked hard for everything she achieved. She also saw her share of fire and rain. At the women's hospital a large female patient fell on her, pinning her against the wall, breaking the end off her first thoracic vertebrae, an injury which plagued her for the remainder of her career. Donna would spend over 18 months in assorted neck and back braces. However, you could never count Ms. Atkinson, this spunky Goldie Hawn lookalike down and out. Resolve, resiliency and a keen sense of responsibility defined this remarkable woman. She was so proud of that green stripe on her white cap. Her only complaint was that those white bobby pins were so damn hard to find. Following her injury it was time to come back to Halifax where she found summer relief work at the V.G., then a fulltime posting at the old Halifax (Inferno) Infirmary. At one point the gals from the Inferno made a trip to Hawaii with stopovers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, one of Donna's favorite cities. The other was Montreal. Her love of Montreal was fostered by the many trips she and Ruthie would make to visit Aunt Muriel and Uncle Les. He was a high flying, hard drinking, successful ad executive who would take a young Donna to high end restaurants and the best shops in town. Uncle Les helped shape Donna's elegance. During Expo '67 he snagged his 19-year-old niece a summer job as a hostess at the exclusive Beaconsfield Golf Course on the outskirts of the city. Always up for an adventure, Donna would ride to and fro on the back of a Kawasaki motorcycle. She would also politely bite her tongue when NHL president crusty ol' Clarence Campbell and his hockey cronies would amble in around closing time, walk around like they owned the joint and expect to stay all night. The previous summer young Ms. Urquhart worked at the Keltic Lodge. When confronted several times by management she steadfastly refused to rat out female colleagues who often broke curfew in search of romance. Integrity plus. Donna was a member of the NSGEU but had little time for union whiners. Just as she frowned upon aging machinery in X-ray; lazy professionals; the overconsumption of alcohol; bullies; the color purple; garlic; ungrateful children; wacko Covid deniers and anyone who would do harm to animals. Donna was an ardent animal lover. As a child she surrounded herself with goldfish, turtles, hamsters. She preferred animals over some people, as she often said, "Animals will never let you down." She had great fondness for cats and dogs. In Toronto, Donna, a big Snoopy fan, picked up a 'boy' cat she named Snoopy. Only problem was Snoopy turned out to be a girl cat. Donna promptly, cleverly changed the cat's name to Mrs. Snoop. Meantime, back in N.S. her parents shipped up a second cat, a ginger cat. Donna, never much of a drinker, ironically called him Boozer; thus began her passion for ginger cats. Boozer would be followed by fellow gingers: Fred, Boo-Boo and Donna's true love, her soul mate for the past 13 years, Joey, currently very confused and heartsick. Donna & Joey shared an astonishing, almost human to human relationship, knowing each others every nuisance. She would often refer to herself as the "crazy cat lady". Donna had more cat mugs, cat slippers, cat T-shirts than Quakers have oats. She thrived in summertime. Summertime was made for Donna. A superb swimmer, she could rock a bikini at any age, loving the whiff of salt water, the sand between her toes, her dazzling blue eyes bathed in sunshine. She savored at least two trips to the Caribbean. Tragedy struck in 1976 when Puppy died suddenly from a massive coronary at age 56. Donna, barely 30, would spend the next 35 years totally devoted to Ruthie who lived into her 90's. Over time Ruthie became bedridden & wheelchair bound. But it never stopped mother & daughter from being on the go. "Hope is all I have," Donna would say, "I can't give that up!" She would forsake mandated union breaks to run home to feed and comfort ailing Ruthie at lunchtime. Her love, care, support of her mother was immeasurable. Donna said her prayers every night but her true spirituality was patient care. She was all about patient care, as her annual work assessments reflected. One summer a budding young NHL player was brought to emerge by his mom for a chest X-ray. One of Donna's co-workers asked her to get a few autographs. Donna put her right hand on her right hip and gave her co-worker the Donna Stare Down. "He's a patient, that's not what we do here," she bellowed. Sidney Crosby heard the commotion and said it was okay. Donna turned to Sid, "Alright," she lectured, "But just one." When Donna, in trademark fashion, placed that right hand on her right hip you knew she meant business. When she got progressively ill one of her saddest requests was that her hospital uniforms be moved out of sight. Donna was utterly selfless, gifted with a heart full of uncommon humanity, she didn't need to be on the top of anyone's list and always put others first. Baking was a specialty. She would bring milk cakes, birthday cakes, cup cakes, custards, cookies, and her favored Lays potato chips to co-workers and neighbors alike. Her kindness knew no bounds. No occasion was too big or too small. "Little things mean a lot" was Donna's maxim. She left an indelible mark on her profession, mentoring many young techs and resident radiologists including Dr. Valerie Keough and Donna's "N.S. daughter" Carrie Valdron. Donna will be sorrily missed by Val & Carrie, by present & former colleagues: Lorene Milbury; Sue Norris; June Armour; Ellen Foley; Veronica Jollimore; Eric Morrison; Karen Wall; Robert McCulloch; Sherri Murray; and Donna's "surfer boy boyfriend" Dr. Jim Ellsmere, as well as all the "Sushi Girls". Also left broken hearted are: June Bredy, Donna's best friend, former fellow tech, manager and trusted confidante; June's daughter Mackenzie with whom Donna shared many adult conversations; retired nurse Linda O'Neil, Donna's other best friend, longtime shopping partner and always there for Donna; lifelong family friend Joey MacLean, the little brother Donna never had, and Donna's proxy Glace Bay family: Gwen Boutilier; Dr. Carol Boutilier (who took over as Donna's family physician at a critical juncture after it became clear that Donna's GP at the Halifax Professional Centre had become less than proactive); Colleen Boutilier and her husband John Crane; nephew Matthew Crane whose hockey & baseball games Donna enjoyed; nieces Breagh Thomas; Allison Kendall; cousins Gord & Jacqueline Mercer. Donna was predeceased by grand niece Jaycee Tracy, whom she adored, who died a month before her fourth birthday, exactly three years to the day of Donna's passing. Special mention must be made of Jaycee's younger sister, Jaya, with whom Donna shared a magical relationship fuelled by a brilliant blend of patience, imagination, laughter & encouragement. Donna would have made an ideal mom. She is survived by her longtime Embassy Towers neighbor, laundry room nemesis, friend, eventual partner Cliff Boutilier. Thanks to all medical staff who took part in Donna's care and to all who offered prayers, well wishes, love & support including Embassy Towers concierge Mel White for whom Donna had immense respect. Keeping with Donna's wishes cremation has taken place. A memorial service will be held at Cruickshank's Funeral Home, 2666 Windsor St., Sunday May 15, 3-7p.m. A dual internment will follow at a later date when Donna and Ruthie will be laid to rest alongside Puppy at Fairview Cemetery. Rev. Elaine Walcott officiating. Donations may be made to the SPCA, the Canadian Cancer Society, or the Jaycee Tracy Memorial Society which helps bring awareness to Meningococal Septicaemia. Without Donna Mae Atkinson the world is a much lesser place.

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