Nova Scotia

VON nurse killed in N.S. shooting remembered as 'natural born healer'

Friends and family of Heather O'Brien say the Masstown, N.S., mother and grandmother was someone who cared deeply for her work, had a special bond with kids and loved Christmas.

Heather O'Brien, a 55-year-old lifetime resident of Masstown, N.S., worked for the VON for 17 years

Heather O'Brien was a licensed practical nurse, a wife, mother and grandmother. (Heather O'Brien/Facebook)

Friends and family of Heather O'Brien say the Masstown, N.S., mother and grandmother was someone who cared deeply for her work, had a special bond with kids and loved Christmas.

O'Brien was a licensed practical nurse and worked with the Victorian Order of Nurses for nearly 17 years.

The 55-year-old is one of 22 victims killed in a shooting rampage in Nova Scotia over the weekend.

O'Brien's daughter, Darcy Dobson, posted on Facebook about her mother on Sunday, pleading with friends and family not to let the shooting define her mother.

"I want everyone to remember how kind she was. How much she loved being a nurse. The way her eyes sparkled when she talked to her grandchildren and the way she just loved Christmas. Let those things define her. Not the horrible way she died," Dobson wrote.

She added her mom "was kind. She was beautiful. She didn't deserve any of this."

O'Brien's obituary said she was a lifetime resident of Masstown, who is survived by her husband of 35 years, six children, two stepchildren and 12 grandchildren, described as the "lights of her life."

O'Brien and another VON employee, Kristen Beaton, were both killed during the tragedy.

Carol Curley, the VON's regional executive director for northern and eastern Nova Scotia, told CBC's Information Morning that both O'Brien and Beaton were doing their best to help clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Curley described O'Brien as someone who extended her love of family to her VON family and clients.

Friends and co-workers honoured health-care worker Heather O'Brien on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"She was very dedicated to her career, absolutely loved getting out and seeing her clients, had a passion for her job and just a genuinely kind lady and very loving and caring," Curley said.

On Tuesday, memorials were set up for the two VON nurses on Plains Road between Debert, N.S., and Highway 104. Co-workers and their children brought flowers.

Portapique, N.S., resident Lucille Adams said she knew O'Brien.

"She has so much compassion for the people she worked for and her family," Adams said. "She was a very loving person. She was always out there to help somebody. It's a tragedy that her family has to deal with this."

Co-workers and their children brought flowers to the memorial for O'Brien and Kristen Beaton outside of Debert, N.S., on Tuesday. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

O'Brien's obituary states that because of COVID-19, a celebration of life will be held at a later date.

The obituary said O'Brien was a teacher at heart, teaching Sunday school and youth groups at a local church and had a special bond with kids.

"It didn't matter who walked through her front door there was always a hot meal and warm bed for anyone who needed it," it said. "She was an advocate for many young people over the years."

'Heather was a natural born healer'

O'Brien's obituary said it was "an understatement" to say that she loved her job.

"She was truly gifted and wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place," it said. "Heather was a natural born healer. We have lost an incredible woman, with a heart of gold, but we know that she's smiling watching us."

In her Facebook post, Dobson urged friends and family to hold their loved ones a little closer.

"Pick up the phone. Call your mom," the post said. "Tell her you love her!"

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.


With files from Emma Davie, CBC's Information Morning and The Canadian Press