Retired Yukon doctor killed in Saturday crash remembered as gruff, devoted, adventurous

Dr. Lis Densmore was one of Yukon's first female doctors and delivered countless babies over the course of her career.

A 'dedicated, loyal family physician,' Lis Densmore also claimed a peak in Antarctica

Lis Densmore, seen here in 1988 atop Mount Vinson, Antarctica's highest peak, was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Whitehorse on Saturday. She was a lifelong adventurer, and the first woman to reach the Vinson peak. (Gordon Wiltsie/AlpenImage)

The family of Dr. Lis Densmore, a retired family doctor in Whitehorse who was killed in a motor vehicle incident on Saturday, say she'll be remembered as a dedicated physician and adventurer.

"She loved being a doctor, even though it's such a challenging job. And she was well-loved and great at it," said Peter Densmore, her former husband.

"There's very few people who you talk to today who didn't go to her at one time or another."

According to a statement from the Yukon Coroner's Service, staff were called to the scene just off the Cowley Lake Road on Saturday morning, where a vehicle appeared to have driven over a steep embankment.

"The driver had exited the vehicle on foot and appeared to have been attempting to find her way back up the embankment when she succumbed," the statement says.

The coroner's service identified the woman as 69-year-old Densmore, who lived in the area. An autopsy has been ordered and is scheduled to take place later this week at Vancouver General Hospital.

'Gruff' but devoted

Densmore first moved to Yukon in the 1970s, and was one of the territory's first female doctors. According to Peter Densmore, that meant she often practiced obstetrics. 

Densmore in Antarctica, in 1988. Her family says it was a love of the outdoors that first brought her to Yukon, four decades ago. (Gordon Wiltsie/AlpenImage)

"We've received a lot of great tributes from people who Lis delivered, and delivered their children as well," he said.

Her daughter, Nicole Dhillon, says delivering babies was one of her favourite things about being a doctor. 

"She was so grateful for those relationships that she was able to help people and connect with them in such an important and meaningful way, and I'm sure that's what she'd like to be remembered for," she said.

Dhillon admits that her mother could be blunt sometimes, or come across as "gruff" — but she was genuinely devoted to her patients.

"There really wasn't anything she wouldn't do, including house calls, or sitting through the night with someone, or bringing things out to someone, or coming at a moment's notice for just about anything."  

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, told CBC that Densmore's death is a "shock" for everyone in the medical community.

"I've been in Yukon for well over 20 years now and Dr. Densmore has been there as one of, really, the most dedicated, loyal family physicians."

Hanley said she will be "well remembered" and was "very well loved" by her patients.

A dedicated outdoorswoman

Densmore was also a dedicated adventurer, as at home in the mountains as in the delivery room. She was a skier, rock climber and mountaineer. According to her family, Densmore became the first woman to reach the summit of Antarctica's highest mountain, Mount Vinson, in the 1980s.

Densmore in her plane. She earned her pilot's licence in 1990. (Submitted by Nicole Dhillon)

She also loved to fly, and earned her pilot's licence in 1990.

It was her love of the outdoors that initially brought her to Yukon, four decades ago. Dhillon said her mother was particularly drawn to the mountains.

"There was a ... you might call it a spiritual connection — a sense of awe and respect that she was so privileged to be able to have the talent and capability to get to these wonderful places," she said.

Often, she'd bring her young children on paddling and climbing adventures. Dhillon says those adventures with her mother never seemed remarkable at the time; only years later did she fully appreciate what her mother was able to do. 

"It never seemed risky because she was so good at it. She made it easy for everyone else around her," she said.

"It's really remarkable to look back and think of, how did she manage to do all of that? And all of it so well that she was just world class, in every sense."

Densmore paddling on a river in Yukon. (Submitted by Nicole Dhillon)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story referred to Nicole Dhillon as Nicole Densmore.
    Jan 10, 2018 11:18 AM CT

With files from Leonard Linklater

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