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Photo is Bette in the pool in 1997 with Sharon, a person who is supported by Ongwanada.

A Tribute to Physiotherapist Bette Torrible

Written by Jennifer Sivilotti (Queen’s PT ’96), currently working at Ongwanada

Elizabeth (Bette) Torrible passed away this spring at age 86.  Although not a Queen’s graduate (Bette attended the U of T Physiotherapy-Occupational Therapy program), Bette is fondly remembered by many Queen’s physiotherapy students and staff.  She played a significant role in educating future physiotherapists by providing both lectures, practical sessions and student placements for decades, right up until her retirement in 1997.   Bette introduced us to cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, hydrotherapy, hippotherapy/therapeutic horseback riding, NDT/Bobath techniques and organized the ever-popular “baby day”, during which students had a chance to spend time with some adorable infants who volunteered their time to teach us about gross motor development.

Bette was hired by Ongwanada (now a Kingston-based Developmental Services Agency, formerly a residential institution) in 1974, as the first physiotherapist of the “Kinsmen Rehabilitation Clinic”.  Long before it was a commonly held societal belief, Bette recognized the potential of children with developmental disabilities to achieve goals and increase independence, and she wholeheartedly believed in the vital role physiotherapy could play in helping to improve quality of life.   At a time when most children with mobility impairments were often carried by caregivers from place to place, Bette (first with the help of Ongwanada carpenter Reg Beck and later with the help of local Orthotist Hugh Barclay), began customizing wheelchairs to suit the positioning and mobility needs of every child.  Bette was instrumental in helping Hugh Barclay develop the concept of the “tilt chair”, in order to combat the effect of gravity on a seated person (which is commonly used today) as well the development of the “supine transporter”, which provided functional mobility for those unable to be positioned in sitting at all. 

A firm believer in the healing power of water, Bette advocated strongly for hydrotherapy to be available to all who would benefit.  At first hydrotherapy for residents of Ongwanada took place in blow-up kiddie pools, bathtubs, Jacuzzi tubs and a Hubbard tank, and then later Bette helped design a therapeutic pool which was built at the Ongwanada Resource Centre in 1989.  This warm-water, wheelchair accessible pool is still used today by people of all abilities in the Kingston community.

A life-long learner, Bette helped bring Roberta and Karl Bobath to Kingston for the first local Bobath Neuro-developmental therapy course in 1977.  She organized several hydrotherapy courses at the Ongwanada pool and was a member of the Kingston Neuro Interest group for many years.

Although leading a very busy life, Bette also made time for volunteering her physiotherapy skills.  She was part of a dedicated team providing hippotherapy (physiotherapy on horseback) to children and adults with disabilities in the Kingston area and was a life member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.  In the 1990’s Bette travelled to India for several weeks with a team from Queen’s Rehab to share her professional expertise with a community-based rehabilitation program.   

Although Bette retired from Ongwanada 23 years ago, she is still very fondly remembered by many of the individuals who she worked with as children and young adults, as well as by the staff who worked alongside her.  An individual who is supported by Ongwanada recently recalled who Bette was: “the physio!” and had these words to share: “She took me in the pool.  She was very special.  I liked her.  She was a good lady.”   Bette’s passion for her chosen profession and for improving the quality of life of the people she supported was evident in all that she did.  Her accomplishments were many, her bright smile genuine and contagious.  She made a lasting impression on everyone who had the good fortune to meet her.

As part of Bette’s ongoing contribution to the Queen’s community, a scholarship has been established, the Torrible Goldman Sachs Scholarship, which is awarded to eligible full time students in the Master of Science (Physical Therapy) program.

Photo is Bette in the pool in 1997 with Sharon, a person who is supported by Ongwanada.

Link to obituary

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