Nova Scotia

Full of life, Paul Sullivan never slowed down, not even in his wheelchair at Northwood

Paul Sullivan never liked sitting still. Whether it was building backyard hockey rinks each winter or extravagant Christmas candleabras, "he was go-go-go all the time," says his son, John Sullivan.

The 86-year-old father of 6, grandfather of 9, died at Northwood on April 21

Irenaeus and Paul Sullivan on one of their many trips to Bermuda. The couple was married for more than 60 years. (Submitted by John Sullivan)

Paul Sullivan never liked sitting still, so the Halifax man filled his life with things that kept him busy.

At home, he was always building something, like backyard hockey rinks each winter or extravagant Christmas candelabras for his church.

He had six children who were a "raucous" bunch, according to one of his sons, John Sullivan, who said he and many of his siblings inherited their father's energy and "gift of the gab."

Because of his exuberance, Sullivan had a wide social circle that often blurred the line between client relationships and friendships. The family still keeps in touch with some of the people he befriended during his career as an insurance salesman, his son said.

Sullivan lost some of his strength in his final years, but at 86, living in long-term care at Northwood in Halifax, he still favoured movement over stillness.

Paul Sullivan with his granddaughter, Emily, at her graduation from Saint Mary's University. (Submitted by John Sullivan)

"That was my father, he was go-go-go all the time," said John.

He said that when he visited his father at Northwood, he would often be whizzing around the dementia ward in his wheelchair.

"He was no shrinking violet, by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Sullivan is one of the dozens of Nova Scotians who have died of COVID-19 since it arrived in the province in March. As of May 19, the province had reported 56 fatalities, 50 of those at Northwood.

The virus became a fact of Sullivan's life when he tested positive on April 16. He wasn't exhibiting any symptoms at the time, but the facility was doing widespread testing in an effort to manage an outbreak that continues to be the worst in Atlantic Canada.

Five days later, around 10 a.m. AT on April 21, Sullivan started registering a fever. He died around 1:40 p.m. the same day.

'No one could be with him'

"I think for our family the whole thing is not so much about COVID-19," said John.

"My father was very weak at the end, he was ready to go. I think the hardship of COVID-19 on us was to know that no one could be with him, particularly my mother."

Sullivan lived in Northwood for about 18 months. His wife of more than 60 years, Irenaeus Sullivan, continues to live in another long-term care facility in Halifax. She didn't need the same level of care as her husband, so they lived apart, but visited each other often, their son said.

Sullivan's children, too, were regular visitors to Northwood. John said one of his brothers went every night to feed their father supper.

The Sullivans at their home on Beech Street in Halifax. Irenaeus and Paul, centre, surrounded by their six children. From left: John, Brian, Michael, Paula, Greg and James. In front, grandchildren Hugh Layton and Emily Sullivan. (Submitted by John Sullivan)

But those visits ended abruptly when Northwood, like many long-term care homes, closed its doors to visitors in mid March just as the virus arrived in Nova Scotia.

In some cases, when residents have been close to dying, nurses and administrators have allowed family members to don personal protective equipment and visit their loved ones for a final goodbye. But Sullivan's condition worsened too quickly for such a visit to be arranged, John said.

Nurses did arrange for a priest to call and read Sullivan his last rites, something his son called "one of the most touching points" of his father's passing. 

"I think it would have meant everything to him. He was a man of great faith."

John Sullivan said he takes comfort in knowing some of his father's final wishes were met, but it doesn't bring him a complete sense of closure.


Taryn Grant


Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at