Physician remembered for compassion, adventuring
Dr. Lis Densmore,
Dr. Lis Densmore, a prominent retired Whitehorse doctor and pioneer outdoorswoman, has died following a motor vehicle accident last Saturday morning south of Whitehorse.
According to the Yukon Coroner’s Service, the incident involved a single vehicle which appeared to have driven over a steep embankment in the Cowley Lake Road area.
Densmore, 69, had exited the vehicle on foot and appeared to have been attempting her way back up the embankment when she died.
An autopsy has been ordered for later this week at Vancouver General Hospital.
The Yukon Coroner’s Service is extending its condolences to Densmore’s family and friends.
Born in Denmark, Densmore moved to the Yukon in the early 1970s.
A longtime doctor in Whitehorse, she specialized in women’s health, and retired from practice at the Pine Medical Clinic in 2013.
Densmore was also a member of Doctors Without Borders.
Beyond her professional work, Densmore was known as an avid outdoorswoman who travelled the world climbing mountains and white water rafting.
Densmore’s daughter, Nicole Dhillon, describes her mother as an “unstoppable” adventurer who was compassionate and caring.
“She was larger than life and so good at everything,” Dhillon told the Star Monday afternoon.
“Smart and tough and independent and unrelenting in her desire to live the life that she wanted, and not live by anyone’s expectations of her.”
“She’s so tough, I actually expect her to come home and demand why I’ve been moving around her dishes and cleaning up,” she said.
Densmore put herself through medical school and taught herself how to mountain climb and kayak, Dhillon said. And in 1990, she also obtained her pilot’s licence.
“She just never gave up; she kept going.”
In 1986, Densmore became the first woman to summit Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antartica.
Dhillon said she would have been the first woman to climb Mount Logan in the Yukon, the highest mountain in Canada, but she got altitude sickness on the last day of her trip.
“She often talked about how pissed off she was,” Dhillon recalled with a chuckle.
At that time, Dhillon noted, it was especially difficult for a woman to get the recognition her mother did in the outdoor sporting world.
Densmore also enjoyed white water rafting in Chile, Dhillon said, and was even pictured rafting in a Yukon tourism poster in the 1980s.
On her travels, Densmore would also volunteer as a doctor.
For six months in Nepal, she volunteered with two other doctors in a small village on a trekking route near Throng La Pass. As well, she was the team doctor for the International South Pole Overland Expedition in 1988-89.
“She just managed to meet all these people that would go with her on these adventures,” Dhillon said.
Her mother also loved being a doctor, she added, and was involved in every aspect of medicine that she could.
Dhillon said her mother once called herself a “grand doctor” as she had helped with the delivery of multiple generations of babies.
“She was very, very proud of those relationships,” she said.
Dhillon also remembers her mother’s intelligence, curiosity about the world and passion for learning.
“My mom, she was a lover of puzzles and problems and scientific inquiry,” she said.
“She was always posing us philosophical or moral challenges; we would talk about those for hours on canoe trips or camping trips.”
Dhillon would like people to remember her mother as a caring woman who would do anything to help others.
“There was no person ever as generous and compassionate,” she said.
“She had the biggest heart in the world. Her compassion was actually astonishing.”
Dr. Alex Poole, the president of the Yukon Medical Association, also had high praise for Densmore.
“Lis was a very good doctor with a great compassion for women’s health in particular,” he told the Star via email.
“Her all-round skills were a significant asset to the community for decades.
“I always appreciated her succinct and to-the-point correspondence and willingness to assist in the care of patients at all times.”
Dhillon has set up an email account at firstname.lastname@example.org for anyone who has stories or photos of her mother they’d like to pass along.
The family plans to use them to create a memory book for the memorial service.