It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Vurla Jean Birnie-Lefcovitch, on October 16, 2018. Vurla was born in 1947 in New Liskeard, Ontario, to Hope and Pat Birnie who predeceased her. She was one of eight children, Arnold (Janet), Gordon (Carolyn), John (Brenda) and Peter (Lynne), two brothers who also predeceased her, Kathryn (John), Doug (Cheryl who predeceased her) and Robert (Helena). Vurla married her partner in life, Shelly, close to 45 years ago and they had two children, Anna (Zaid) and Simon (Jennifer). Vurla was blessed with four grandchildren (Laila, Madeleine, Lily and Emil) whom she adored. Vurla also was loved by the Lefcovitch side of the family, especially her in-laws, Leah and Louis Lefcovitch and her sister-in-law Alanna (Farley). Also mourning her loss are many nieces, nephews, and cousins on both sides of the family. Vurla’s passion for life and love of people meant she developed many close, intimate and lasting friendships wherever she lived and worked: St. John’s, Chance Cove, Guelph, Burlington, and Northern Ontario.
Vurla was a professional social worker who earned a BA from Queen’s University and an MSW from Wilfrid Laurier University. Before she retired in 2016, she was the clinical lead for social work at the Miller Centre. At various times in her career, she contributed to other fields of practice including, community-based health care, school social work and child protection. Vurla had a unique capacity to connect with people. She was highly respected by her professional colleagues in multiple disciplines and was seen as a mentor, guide and friend.
We would like to thank the many care providers who assisted Vurla in her journey with cancer in St. John’s and Halifax. In particular, we are grateful to Dr. Ean Parsons (family physician and colleague), Dr. Dawn Armstrong (medical oncologist), Dr. Alex Mathieson (surgeon) and Dr. Carman Giacomantonio (surgeon) and their capable staff. We give thanks to Corinne Humby (patient navigator), Lana Mah (ostomy nurse), the Family Practice Unit, the Cancer Centre, 4 North A – all at the Health Sciences Centre – as well as Community Health nurses who worked on Vurla’s behalf. Vurla’s colleagues at the Miller Centre in Nutrition, Speech Therapy and Physiotherapy also made important post-surgical contributions to her well-being. The staff of the Palliative Care Team and, again, Community Health, provided the care and support that enabled Vurla to die in the comfort and peace of her home, enjoying the people she loved and who loved her. We are especially grateful for the care, compassion and expertise shown by Carmel Collins, our palliative care consultant and Vurla’s colleague and friend, and by Kim Collins and Kelly Ralph, community health nurses. Finally, we also want to recognize Vurla’s sister, Kathryn, for the love, companionship and support she provided over Vurla’s lifetime and particularly through the weeks before her death.
Events celebrating Vurla’s life will be held in St. John’s and Guelph, Ontario. Details about the celebration in Guelph are to be determined. In St. John’s, a gathering will be held on Monday, October 22 from 4-6pm at the Rocket Room on the third floor of Rocket Bakery (272 Water Street; also accessible from Duckworth St.). Donations to the Stella Bury Foundation, an organization that embodies Vurla’s values and works with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our community, are appreciated in lieu of flowers.