Dr. Ouida Ramon-Moliner: Anaesthetist. Pioneer. Traveller. Mother. Born Dec. 23, 1929, in Waterford, Ireland; died Feb. 21, 2020, in North Hatley, Que., of pancreatic cancer; aged 90.
At 75, Ouida Ramon-Moliner surfed 100-foot sand dunes in New Zealand. On her 85th birthday, she zip-lined through the forests of Costa Rica and rode a horse after lunch. Five years later, on her last birthday, she raised her hands in victory after blowing out 90 candles on a 90-inch strawberry shortcake baked by her grandchildren. Ouida was always full of life.
Ouida d’Abreu was one of five daughters of the “Black doctor” who had emigrated from India to Ireland in the 1920s to run a surgery in County Waterford. At an early age, she knew she wanted to become an anesthetist and have four children – two girls and two boys in that order.
After studying medicine in Dublin, she left for Montreal to continue her training at Royal Victoria Hospital. She met Enrique Ramon-Moliner, a Spanish doctor completing postgraduate work in neuroscience. Their rooming house landlady played matchmaker: Ouida’s Irish temperament and his Spanish temper sparked romance. They married within a year in Montreal and began their family while each pursued further study and training. Work took them to Baltimore and Washington, where two more children were born. Later in life, a sign on their kitchen wall declared: "We’re staying together because of the dog,” but their relationship was tethered by mutual respect and shared discovery of their freer lives in Canada.
Ouida’s career was punctuated by interactions with some of the great figures in medicine. In Montreal, she assisted as Dr. Wilder Penfield carried out awake craniotomies, she worked with Sir Harold Griffiths, who pioneered the use of curare – one of the great discoveries in anesthesia. In Washington she took part in early mechanical heart-valve surgeries. Ouida was also the anesthetist on call when Jackie Kennedy gave birth to JFK Jr. Wisely, she called in the department head for the delivery.
Ouida loved her work. She was often the first woman among men. Ouida would respond with her trademark shrug to any suggestions that, as a woman, she might have been treated unfairly at work. She proved by example that she was just as good. Some say better.
Enrique helped Ouida accept her dark skin colour, which had been, in Ireland and Britain, a frequent cause of derision. In 1963, the family returned to Canada and settled in Quebec, where she had her fourth child. She became the first female anesthetist at Laval University, and then again at the University of Sherbrooke medical school in 1967, where she worked until 1995.
Ouida was pragmatic and objective. When things got rough, she didn’t allow her children to wallow in self-pity. You just had to get on with it. She loved to travel – her “Pink Panther” knapsack was rife with holes and torn zips (part of her “waste not want not” philosophy) – and she taught her seven grandchildren to: “Travel as far as possible, as often as possible, and then come home.”
She always had a dog in her life – usually a black mutt – and let them roam free. Friends and neighbours weren’t happy about that; she’d listen patiently to their concerns, then pay no attention whatsoever.
Ouida helped found the Massawippi Water Protection group and volunteered in her community. She helped many navigate the medical system and at 89, still drove them to doctors’ appointments.
After a diagnosis of aggressive pancreatic cancer, Ouida died at home, surrounded by family. In a hall packed with 200 people, her eldest grandson read her chosen Wordsworth’s sonnet: The World is Too Much with Us. It proved a prescient reckoning for our times.
But we really have to get on with it.
Marie, Carmen, Michael and Peter Moliner are Ouida’s children.
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