Mavis Verronneau, the Cree Health Board’s loving diabetes coordinator, passed away from illness on Saturday, February 19 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal. She was diagnosed with cancer last August.

Mavis, a diabetes educator and nurse, had dedicated her life to helping people with diabetes. In her earlier years, she started the diabetes clinic at the Montreal General Hospital, and three years ago the diabetes education program at the Lakeshore General Hospital.

Nurse Verronneau started to work part-time for the Cree Health Board in the early 1990s as a diabetes educator. Because of her dedication and hard work, Mavis was promoted to the position of diabetes coordinator.

Among her many accomplishments in the Cree Health Board, Verronneau helped found the Diabetes Task Force, Cree Diabetes Network, the Diabetes Working Group in the communities and Cree Diabetes Registry.

The Cree Diabetes Registry is the only one of its kind in Canada. It is a useful tool in monitoring the rate and improving the management of diabetes in Iyiyuuschii.

Mavis also designed the diabetes education and treatment program carried in the Cree health clinics and hospital today. Even after her diagnosis, she continued to work on her Cree diabetes file until she entered the hospital for the last time.

Mavis touched many lives and made many friends in the Cree communities. They were shocked by her death. Some of her friends wrote the following tributes in her memory:

Joanne Matowahom from Chisasibi writes, “Mavis was always a person who made people laugh, had fun and enjoyed life. She always gave support to the people she worked with. I remember her as a friend who gave a lot of herself to help people. She had a way of making people laugh, and if she knew there was something wrong, she would try even harder to make that person laugh. I know her work here on earth is done. Many of us will remember her in our work with diabetes. We know her spirit will always be with us and we can still ask for her help.”

Bob Imrie from Ouje-Bougoumou contributes this: “I was privileged by having the opportunity to work with Mavis for four years at the Public Health Module in Montreal. We worked very closely together – in fact we shared an office. Fortunately, we did not have to share the telephone. We shared many discussions on bringing up children and partners – and I feel that I shared part of bringing up her daughter Erica. The office is a safe place to bring up a teenager – safe for me as I could dish out advice and not have to suffer the consequences if the advice was not appropriate.

“Our friendship at work carried over to our personal lives. My partner, Joan Brackenbury, and I had many good times together with Mavis and Serge, sharing dinners, films, theatre, golf, shopping and vacations. We enjoyed the company of each other. We will miss Mavis – the smiles, the funny faces, expressions and dedication to everything that she tackled were all part of her character.”

Lily Gull Sutherland, Rita Mianscum Trapper and Francine Noel from Waswanipi contributed this: “In loving memory of our dear Mavis Verronneau. We were so saddened and shocked to hear the news. You have taught us a great deal about life and the effects of the disease called diabetes. We have learned a great deal from you when you were with us. When the work about prevention of diabetes overloads us, we feel your presence and spirit to keep us going. We will miss you. To show our appreciation, the Council of Cree First Nation of Waswanipi made a donation to St. Mary’s Hospital, but it is small compared to the wealth of friendship and respect you have given us. So we say thank you to your family and relatives for having known such a kind person. Thank you for being so convincing in your work. As you have said, ‘I believe in it.’”

Jill Torre from the Public Health Module in Montreal writes, “Joanne Matowahom recalls that if Mavis ‘knew there was something wrong she would try even harder to make that person laugh.’ I have two stories that show just how true this is. The day before she died, just as I was leaving her hospital room, she spoke her last words to me, and wouldn’t you know it – she made a joke. Not feeling very humourous at the time, I was a little slow on the uptake until I saw that twinkle in her eye. And so we parted, both laughing. Last Friday I was talking with several people from up north who had not been able to go to the funeral. At the beginning, we were all feeling sad. But by the time we parted, one of them had told us a very funny story about Mavis and, once again, she had us all laughing.”

Voilet S. Bates from Chisasibi writes, “Mavis had a very cheerful, bright personality. She was a person who made people feel at ease and comfortable with her presence. She was also instrumental in the development, education and research of diabetes in our region of James Bay. By those who were lucky enough to have crossed her path during her life and work in this world, she will be greatly missed. Her dedication in the field of diabetes, education and the Diabetes Working Group will continue in our communities. I would also like to send my condolences to her husband and daughter. From a time of grief when I also lost a loved one whom I had shared my life with as a companion, a friend and husband, I always remember what someone had told me then. That person said, ‘Some people are only here on this earth for a short while. The Creator takes them away because he does not want them to suffer in pain any more.’”

In just a few years, Mavis became well-known to everyone related to diabetes in the Iyiyuuschii. We will miss her sense of humour, her friendship, her energy and her encouragement.

Goodbye, Mavis, we love you.