Fresh from small-town Quebec, Renée Carrier arrived in New York 30 years ago to start her first United Nations job in the francophone secretary pool. She would work her way up to be a respected diplomat and administrator.
Ms. Carrier, 54, had filed papers for her retirement and was considering moving to Montreal. She was in Haiti on her last field mission when the earthquake struck.
Her death and that of another Canadian UN worker, Alexandra Duguay, were made public yesterday. Both were killed in the collapse of the UN office in Port-au-Prince.
Both women embraced the UN lifestyle, shuttling between New York headquarters and difficult work in remote and troubled lands.
"Some people do it once and quit because it's too hard. But others get the bug. Each time it's like starting a new life," said Florence Westergard, who in 1992 worked with Ms. Carrier in MINURSO, the UN mission to Western Sahara.
MINURSO wasn't welcomed by the Moroccan government fighting the Polisario rebels for control of the former Spanish colony.
Ms. Westergard said Ms. Carrier had to work in a claustrophobic atmosphere in a small desert town where local authorities followed UN workers and listened in on their phone calls. "Her professionalism was amazing, never complaining of working late or on weekends. Everyone at the mission at all levels liked her."
Ms. Carrier, a one-time school administrator, went on missions to Haiti in 1994 and to Eritrea.
She had returned to Haiti as a special assistant to the head of the UN mission, Hédi Annabi, a Tunisian diplomat also killed in the quake, who specifically requested her, said retired Canadian general Maurice Baril.
Ms. Carrier had been Mr. Baril's assistant when he was military adviser to the UN secretary general in the early 1990s. "She was a small woman who did great things," Mr. Baril said of the diminutive Ms. Carrier.
Ms. Duguay, 31, from Quebec City, was a public information officer for the UN in Haiti. Her boyfriend, Marc-André Franche, also worked for the mission but survived.
"The body of our beautiful Alexandra was found around midnight. It appears she died in the first minutes after the quake," her mother, Marie-Dominique Bédard, wrote on Facebook early yesterday.
Ms. Duguay worked for the UN in New York and wanted to get field experience, her family said. She went to Haiti about a year ago for what was to be a two-year stint at the UN.
She also began fundraising for an orphanage run by a Quebec nun on Île à Vache, an island off the Haitian coast.