Kerry Margaret Telford Morrissey and her infant daughter Sarah Grace died together on 29 November 2009 when the seaplane they were traveling in crashed shortly after take-off. She was 41 years old. In those years, Kerry touched many lives with her compassion and love.
Kerry was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, to Charles and Eileen Telford. Her sister Carmen was born shortly after. Her family moved to White Rock when she was a teenager where she attended Semiahmoo Secondary School and completed the International Baccalaureate program.
She grew up with a strong attachment to Ireland and never wavered in her fondness for red hair and a pint of Guinness. As a teenager, she developed a lifelong relationship with a patient she met while volunteering at Peace Arch Hospital and deeply cherished the lessons she learned from her.
After graduation, Kerry wished to become a missionary; however, her parents convinced her to become a physician first so that she could attend to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of others. Thus it was that Kerry enrolled at Simon Fraser University for her pre-med classes, and despite narrowly missing the application deadline, was accepted into UBC Medical School, class of 1993. Surely she is one of the only students to list playing the spoons as a skill.
As a medical student, Kerry excelled in listening empathetically to her patients. She entertained her classmates with beautiful singing and wrote silly songs about sunburns. At the end of medical school, she felt a need to work in a more rural environment, so she applied to Memorial University for her family practice residency.
While there, she fell in love with the people, the bars, and the accents. Kerry then began her work in Yellowknife where she stayed for 5 years. While in the North, she gained confidence in her skills and enjoyed the great variety of outdoor activities. An avid traveler, she enjoyed and needed her trips to many exotic locations to refocus and re-energize.
Despite working in an area of need, Kerry still felt restless and wished to pursue her original goal. After much contemplation and prayer, she decided to travel to a small mission in Peru to assist a group of physician priests who worked there.
She would laugh when she thought of the picture she sent them: herself, in full winter gear, tons of snow, and a sled dog. She was determined though, and in 2001 she made the first of her trips to the small mission in Santa Clotilde.
Kerry’s deep faith in God allowed her to overcome her fears, so that she could travel and work in a different language, in isolated areas, and in environments not generally suited to those who are melatonin deficient.
Between 2001 and 2005, Kerry spent many months in the jungle, often taking other professionals with her. She viewed these trips as a privilege, and always felt that she received as much as she gave to the people of Santa Clotilde.
Between times, she would raise money and collect equipment while she worked in the Lower Mainland at the Peace Arch Obstetrical Clinic and the Bridge Community Health Clinic, which provides care for refugees and refugee claimants.
During this time, Kerry found Patrick Morrissey. A perfect complement to her, they shared a deep faith, love of travel, music, charity, and a quirky sense of humor. In 2005, Kerry and Patrick were married and settled in Vancouver to start a family.
Patrick related a story at the wedding that Kerry would cry during grace because she was so thankful for all the blessings she had received in her life. Kerry joined the South Ridge Community Birth Program and continued her work with refugees and fundraising while she and Patrick began a family. In 2007 and 2009, Kerry and Patrick were thrilled with the arrival of Claire Marie and Sarah Grace.
It was clear to all of us who worked with her that Kerry had a remarkable ability to identify and bond with her patients. She actively listened to colleagues, patients, and friends, and even those who met her only a few times were touched by her great love for others. Kerry made everyone feel special.
As Father Maurice Schroeder stated, “She chose to see the best in people and reflect it back to them.” Kerry lived as Mother Teresa suggested: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”
A scholarship supporting residents interested in global health has been started in Kerry and Sarah’s memory. Contributions can be made to the Kerry and Sarah Morrissey Telford Memorial Scholarship through UBC by calling 1 877 717-4483 fund ID S943 or online at supporting.ubc.ca/kerrytelford.
—Carolyn Van Schagen, MD
—Helena Swinkels, MD
—Lauren McCarthy, MD
Fort McMurray, AB
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