New nursing student endowment honours life of longtime Comox Valley nurse

Renee Robertson helped many people through her volunteering, including with her local fire department.

Some people are just a joy to be around. Their effortless charisma and authenticity easily transform ordinary moments into memorable ones. 

Renee O’Donnell was like that. It’s the reason Gordon Robertson was immediately drawn to her—magnetism that quickly grew into long-lasting love.

In Leven, a town on the east coast of Scotland, Gordon wasn’t the only one who noticed how Renee could light up a room without even trying. From a young age, she had a deep interest in caring for others.

“She couldn’t help herself. She just had to help,” says Gordon.

Renee’s selfless dedication to helping others led to a career in nursing. At age 15, she enroled in a pre-nursing college. Not long after, she started her professional training and graduated as a registered nurse in 1976. That same year, she married Gordon, who considers himself lucky to have been able to call her his life-partner for 47 years.

“It didn’t matter how difficult the situation was, she was always the consummate professional,” says Gordon.

The Robertson family has set up the new Renee Robertson Memorial Nursing Bursary to keep her story alive and support students at NIC going into the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

Last June, Renee died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. To honour her memory and legacy of a life spent caring for others, her family has set up a new endowment through the North Island College Foundation for students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Every year, five eligible students will each receive $2,000 through the Renee Robertson Memorial Nursing Bursary.

“We hope to find another Renee,” says Gordon. “You just don’t know how many Renees there may be out there that just need a little help to go on to have a positive impact on the lives of others, as she did.”

Nursing took Renee, and Gordon, around the world—from working as a civilian nurse with the U.S. military in Europe to caring for children as a school nurse in the Middle East. Eventually, the couple returned to Scotland, where they welcomed a daughter and later a son. The family’s global adventures however never stopped, and they emigrated to Canada in 1987.

After settling in the Prairies, Renee worked predominantly in long-term care as a senior RN. She also volunteered for her local fire department for nearly two decades. During that time, she never hesitated to spring into action when emergency struck. It was not uncommon to find her rushing towards a burning building or climbing into a wrecked vehicle to help injured occupants. For her dedication and commitment, she was awarded three medals of service by the Province of Alberta.

“If she was in the house and that emergency pager went off, she went,” says Gordon. “She didn’t second-guess why she was going, she would just go.”

In 2007, the couple moved one last time, settling in the Comox Valley where Renee worked as a nurse at Cumberland Lodge. Her kindheartedness endeared her to the residents she cared for, but after more than 10 years at the lodge, she finally retired. With more free time, Renee focused all her love on her family, enjoying her remaining days with her beloved husband.

“She touched so many people’s lives,” says Gordon.

Renee’s family hopes her passion for nursing, dedication to volunteering and boundless kindness will live on through the endowment they created in partnership with the North Island College Foundation for future BSN students.

“The Renee Robertson Memorial Nursing Bursary is a wonderful tribute to Renee Robertson’s passion for her profession and, through the support these bursaries will offer NIC students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program, a lasting legacy for our whole community,” said Diane Naugler, NIC Foundation Executive Director.

About the NIC Foundation

The NIC Foundation has been advancing student success, education and community growth through NIC since 1992. It supports NIC students through scholarships and bursaries, classroom equipment and technology investments with the goal of providing the best possible learning facilities are accessible on the NIC region. It envisions a future where every student has the opportunity to pursue post‐secondary education, train for a new career or develop employable skills to support themselves and their families.

To support the NIC Foundation and make a difference in the lives of post‐secondary students, call 250-334-5074 or visit