Nova Scotia

Teacher killed in N.S. shooting appreciated the 'wonder of life'

Lisa McCully — one of 22 victims killed in the mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia — is being remembered as a loving and vivacious mother, daughter, sister, teacher and friend with a conspicuous zest for life.

Lisa McCully remembered as a loving and vivacious mother, daughter, sister, teacher and friend

Friends and family of Lisa McCully say she was a natural leader and a passionate mother, sister and teacher. (Submitted by Bonnie Williams)

Faced with unimaginable danger, the last moments of Lisa McCully's life exemplified her character as a selfless and passionate leader who cared deeply for others.

After residents received word from RCMP to lock their doors and stay inside their homes Saturday night in the small community of Portapique, N.S., McCully noticed her neighbour's house was on fire.

She placed her two young children in the basement and went back upstairs to try and help.

"It speaks to her personality to step in and risk," McCully's sister Jenny Kierstead said in an interview Tuesday on CBC's The Current. "She was always a natural leader."

McCully — one of 22 victims killed in this weekend's mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia — is being remembered as a loving and vivacious mother, daughter, sister, teacher and friend with a conspicuous zest for life.

"She is such a loss because she was such a light," said Kierstead. "We were brought up to really appreciate the wonder of life, and it was a part of who she was."

Jenny Kierstead, shown here, said her sister was 'the life of the party' and a talented musician. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

McCully was a teacher at Debert Elementary School in Debert, N.S.

Social media posts describe how the 49-year-old woman made lasting connections with her students and colleagues. She took her role beyond academia and into that of a spiritual leader who brought lessons of gratitude, kindness, compassion and respect into the classroom.

"She was an incredibly positive person whose love of life and children brightened the day of anyone who came in contact with her," the school's principal, Scott Armstrong, said in a statement.

"She was first and foremost a loving mom. Her world revolved around her children and she brought this love into her classroom each and every day."

Jenny Kierstead remembers her sister, Lisa McCully, who was killed in the N.S. shootings. 10:09

McCully was also a musician who was "the life of the party," said Kierstead. She could often be found with an egg shaker taped around her foot, a guitar on her lap and a harmonica strapped around her neck.

"You wanted her at your party because she was just so much fun," she said, adding that she was a big fan of Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy.

"She had a crazy sense of humour and just brought so much levity to every situation."

 WATCH Friend of slain Nova Scotia teacher describes Lisa McCully as vibrant, passionate, caring:

'She always eked all of the beauty out of every day,' says Bonnie Williams. 'That's what I have to focus on.' 3:46

Family friend Bonnie Williams described McCully as honest and authentic.

She said McCully had managed to find a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, embracing remote teaching and spending time with her children in their home by the waters of Cobequid Bay.

She said she also recently helped organize a birthday parade for her 82-year-old father, who lives in Quispamsis, N.B.

McCully was a teacher at Debert Elementary School in Debert, N.S. (Submitted by Steve Archibald)

"Lisa was just a vibrant, vivacious person," Williams said. "She just had a positive energy. She was always smiling."

Longtime friend Jocelyn Smith said when McCully's brother was diagnosed with cancer, she gave all her close friends and family a task: Write him a short letter to remind him he's loved.

She rolled up the letters and put them in tubes and asked her brother to open one every day as he went into treatment, so he would be reminded to "kick cancer's butt."

Her brother died in 2017 at the age of 48, something that has taught Kierstead how to deal with trauma, she said.

"We were just coming through the hurt and the pain of that," said Kierstead. "The family has been through a lot."

A memorial to McCully outside Debert Elementary School. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

McCully was also a lifelong camper at Berwick United Church Camp in Berwick, N.S., and most recently worked there as a camp teacher.

Camp friend Sandra MacAulay Thompson said she was able to connect with children because she treated them with respect and trust, and "believed in their wisdom and their abilities to do and be anything."

"She looked at every lesson and activity she led as an adventure in creativity and community, and loved to learn from the children and youth around her," MacAulay Thompson wrote in an email.

"Sometimes her lessons turned into giant projects, sometimes they took her down paths she never expected them to, but she always embraced whatever turn they took, just as she embraced the twists and turns that life presented to her."

WATCH Tributes to the heroes and victims killed in Nova Scotia rampage:

People across the country are expressing their sorrow over one of the deadliest mass killings in Canadian history and honouring some of those who acted bravely to protect others. 3:56

Kierstead said McCully had found a "place of solace" in the tiny cottage community of Portapique. The last photo she received of her was hours before her death, walking on the beach with a glass of red wine.

Kierstead said her sister would have wanted her to tell Canadians to take care of the children during this difficult time.

"Their hands need to be held right now, their faces need to be stroked, they need to be affirmed that they are safe. That would be her main message right now," she said.

"We need to take her life and carry it into our own lives."

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

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