Gatineau speechwriter who drowned in Mexico remembered for her 'vibrancy'

The funeral for speechwriter and former journalist Elaine O’Farrell, who drowned in Mexico while on holiday with her family this February, is set to take place in Gatineau, Que., on Saturday.

Elaine O’Farrell, 61, died snorkelling in February

Elaine O'Farrell with her husband of 30 years, Doug Hoover. O'Farrell died while snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea on Feb. 19, 2022. (Submitted by Doug Hoover)

The funeral for speechwriter and former journalist Elaine O'Farrell, who drowned in Mexico while on holiday with her family this February, is set to take place in Gatineau, Que., on Saturday. 

O'Farrell was 61 years old when she died while snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea on Feb. 19, 2022. A press release issued by her family said no trauma or other physiological causes played a part in her death. 

"She just got into trouble under water and slipped away while watching a large group of stingrays in about 15 feet of water," the release said. 

Doug Hoover, her husband of 30 years, said she loved to swim. The family lives on the Ottawa River — where O'Farrell would take off kayaking and end up at friends' houses down the water. 

Hoover said her solo-adventurer style held while they were in Mexico. 

"She'd just say, I'm going for a swim … and then in a couple of hours she would come back and she'd tell me her stories of who she met, what she did," Hoover said. 

The two were looking to buy a house near Puerto Morelos in Mexico before she died. 

For O'Farrell's colleague Erin Seller, the hardest part of O'Farrell's death was that she was talking more about retirement and about to start a new phase of life. 

"She was so excited for her daughters and future grandkids and they were getting a new puppy and had taken this great extended trip to Mexico," Seller said. "I'm just disappointed for her family. They were robbed of that." 

O'Farrell made friends everywhere

"I had her for 30 years. I don't know how I managed to get her in the first place. I feel blessed and lucky and 300 years wouldn't have been enough," Hoover said. 

The two met in 1990 in Edmonton, when Hoover was a law student and O'Farrell was working at a local newspaper. 

Hoover was out at a bar with a friend who wanted to leave.

"And I said, No, we can't leave. And I pointed at her and I said, 'because I'm going to marry that girl.'"

Their first date was to a Fringe Festival event O'Farrell was reviewing and three weeks later they were engaged. The couple moved to Aylmer, Que., shortly afterward, where their two daughters, Samantha and Zoe Hoover were born. 

O'Farrell and Hoover on their honeymoon road trip in 1991. (Submitted by Doug Hoover)

Hoover remembers his wife as "feisty ... but extremely passionate." 

"The most remarkable thing I always saw in her was her ability to make fast friends wherever she went."

Journalist turned speechwriter 

O'Farrell worked for a variety of newspapers including the Edmonton Sun, Maclean's Magazine, The Canadian Press, and the Ottawa Citizen, before switching into communications. 

Eventually she became a speechwriter, most recently for Health Canada, where she wrote internal government speeches for Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam, among others. 

"The pandemic has served to underscore how important good communication is to protecting the health of Canadians and to supporting our workforce," Tam said in a statement.

"In this way, Elaine was key to our efforts … her personality and vibrancy were a positive addition."

O'Farrell pictured with her daughters Samantha Hoover, left, and Zoe Hoover, centre. (Submitted by Doug Hoover)

Mackenzie Scott, got to know her aunt much better in the summer of 2021, when Scott was in the process of making the move from working as a journalist to a graduate school program in communications. The former CBC reporter describes her as "a five-foot firecracker."

"I was pretty nervous about that transition, about whether I was making the right decision. And she really encouraged me and, I guess in a way, was a little bit of a mentor." 

Colleagues remember her wild stories, sharp editing

O'Farrell left her coffee cup everywhere in the office, but was never without a bottle of hot sauce, said her colleague Seller. 

Seller worked with O'Farrell for nine years and says she still hears her voice in her head every day, having learned so much about good writing from her.

"Elaine was always the first to know … She just had contacts everywhere. And for me, I miss that. Elaine was my go to when I had what I thought was a dumb question."

Another colleague, Susan Randell, remembers O'Farrell's wild stories — everything from her daughter's boyfriend coming over for dinner to "attending" Wayne Gretzky's wedding, from across the street, as a reporter. 

"She was also incredibly hip. She was always talking about going shopping with Zoe and Sam. She loved a good mini skirt," Seller said. 

Randell said the office group joked about wearing mini skirts to O'Farrell's celebration of life as a tribute to the woman who wouldn't have wanted a sombre ceremony. 

Hoover says some local musical acts that O'Farrell loved watching will be a part of the event Saturday.


  • A previous version of this story called a Mexican town Puerto Morales, but the town is actually called Puerto Morelos.
    May 09, 2022 3:16 PM ET