Helen Mussallem remembered

Regarded as one of the greatest nurses in Canada, Dr. Mussallem grew up in Maple Ridge before her embarking on her distinguished career

Dr. Helen Mussallem

Dr. Helen Mussallem

Former Maple Ridge resident and one of Canada’s most renowned nurses died Nov. 9 in Ottawa.

Dr. Helen Kathleen Mussallem passed away while in care at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus at the age of 98.

Dr. Mussallem first moved to Maple Ridge from Prince Rupert with her parents in 1921. The seven-year-old attended the old Haney Elementary School on what is now 225th Street.

Her father Solomon arrived in Canada penniless after he escaped from Lebanon at the turn of the century. He left Ontario for B.C. shortly after arriving in Canada and once in Maple Ridge, he started a successful car dealership, the Haney Garage, in 1919. The car dealership later and for decades operated under the Mussallem name on the Lougheed Highway.

Solomon Mussallem also sat as mayor of Maple Ridge for more than 20 years, a career that started in 1930 and lasted until his last stint in 1953.

Dr. Helen Mussallem graduated from MacLean High School in Maple Ridge and set off to Vancouver General Hospital to start of what would become one of the country’s most distinguished careers in nursing. She enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and served overseas as a battlefield nurse. After the war, she came back to Vancouver, where she became the director of nursing education at VGH.

She left Vancouver to further her education in Montreal, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing degree from McGill University. She then headed to New York, where she eventually earned her Doctorate from Columbia University.

In 1963, Dr. Mussallem became executive director of the Canadian Nurses’ Association. It is also at this time that she began amassing a long line of nursing distinctions, including receiving the title of Dame of the Grace of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

In addition, she amassed six honourary degrees, a fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing in the U.K., as well as being given the Florence Nightingale Medal of the International Red Cross.

Canada’s national nursing library is also named in her honour.

Her distinguished career also included 38 assignments for the World Health Organization.

It was on a trip with the WHO to the Barbados where she was the guest of the Governor General that she met the four members of musical band The Beatles.

In the book, All Our Yesterdays, Stories From Maple Ridge, Dr. Mussallem recalled her account with the Fab Four.

“I didn’t know they were anybody special,” she recalled, “but I thought they were nice looking boys.”

After acquiring souvenirs from the band, she recalled giving the eager artists some sage advice.

“I told them several times during the evening not to worry. Life is too short to worry. Just let it be. You will go far. Just let it be, let it be,” according to Dr. Mussellem’s account in All Our Yesterdays, Stories From Maple Ridge.

The family of Dr. Mussallem is planning a memorial in Vancouver in early January.