Dr. Martha Donnelly

23 June 1950 – 10 January 2019


It is with profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of Dr. Martha Donnelly on January 10, 2019. She was a long-serving Department of Psychiatry member of the UBC Faculty of Medicine, a pioneering geriatric psychiatrist, a leader within geriatric mental healthcare communities in BC and across Canada, and a cherished colleague and friend to many.

Dr. Donnelly joined the UBC Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Family Practice in 1987. As an Associate Professor, she was very active in the affairs of the Faculty, serving as the Division Head of Community Geriatrics in Family Practice from 1987 to 2012, the Division Head of Geriatric Psychiatry from 2002 to 2013, the Associate Head of Clinical Affairs from 2007 to 2013, and the Director of the Subspecialty Residency Program for Geriatric Psychiatry from 2011 to 2016.

Under her leadership, and in large part due to her unwavering commitment and dedication, the Department saw the expansion of the geriatric curriculum and enhanced delivery of its geriatric psychiatry education programs. As Chair of the UBC Medical School Program Curriculum Evaluation Committee, she oversaw the successful transition from the old to the new medical school curriculum. Externally, as President of the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry from 2004 to 2008, she participated in the development of national goals and objectives for geriatric fellowships, also playing a key role in the application process and granting of the Department’s sub-specialization status in Geriatric Psychiatry in 2009.

As a physician, Dr. Donnelly was a tireless advocate and a champion for senior patients and their rights, seeking to bring the best care for this vulnerable population. Notably, her advocacy and expertise helped to inform the framework of the Adult Guardianship Act of BC. She strongly emphasized geriatric psychiatry and family practice collaborative care for the elderly, both inspiring and encouraging training in mental health for family physicians interested in this field. In recognition for her lifelong achievement, she was awarded the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry Outstanding Contribution to Geriatric Psychiatry Award in 2009, and the Vancouver Medical Association Primus Inter Pares Award in 2010.

Furthermore, Dr. Donnelly was awarded the UBC Killam Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010 for her significant contributions to education within the Faculty. She was a beloved teacher who taught a generation of family physicians and psychiatrists in BC, many of whom have risen to important roles in both clinical service and teaching in the province, and whom are indebted to her for her invaluable guidance and mentorship.

We convey our sincere condolences to the family on behalf of myself and all members of the UBC Department of Psychiatry. A memorial gathering is planned in the near future and we will communicate further about this as the information becomes available.  If Department members wish to share their thoughts and memories about Martha in this posting, they may submit them in the comment field below.


Dr. Lakshmi N. Yatham, MBBS, FRCPC, MRCPsych (UK), MBA (Exec)
Professor and Head, UBC Department of Psychiatry
Director, Institute of Mental Health, UBC
Regional Head and Program Medical Director, VCH/PHC


Martha Donnelly Memorial Fund

In Dr. Donnelly’s memory, the Martha Donnelly Memorial Fund has been established at the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

Your gift will not only pay tribute to Martha’s life and contributions to her field, but also support educational and community engagement activities related to community geriatrics and geriatric psychiatry. To donate please click on the icon below.







When I think of Martha I see someone who defined geriatric psychiatry for this country. I will miss her passion for promoting the best of senior’s care, her mentorship but most of all her smile.

Carol Ward

When I think of Martha I see someone who defined geriatric psychiatry for this country. I will miss her passion for promoting the best of senior’s care, her mentorship but most of all her smile.

Carol Ward

Martha was a kind and inspirational teacher and mentor. I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn from her, and am saddened by our loss.

Jenny Barley

Martha was a kind and inspirational teacher and mentor. I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn from her, and am saddened by our loss.

Jenny Barley

Martha – A shining star in the many aspects of her contribution to the care of the older adult. My sincere condolences to family, friends, and colleagues.

Susan Higginbotham

I will remember Martha for so many wonderful contributions to geriatric care, but especially her passion for teaching and building the next generation of clinicians, of all disciplines. I will always be grateful that she inspired and guided my early career as a psychologist, and I will miss her.

Amy Zwicker

At the Canadian Centre for Elder Law we are so sad to hear about Martha’s death. In addition to her tremendous work to support clinical practice, she made a powerful contribution to law reform & policy development re mental capacity, elder abuse, access to MAiD & seniors’ rights. A true visionary.

Krista James

Dr. Donnelly was the biggest single influence in my training. It was through her mentorship and guidance that I developed my love for Geriatric Psychiatry. I remember Martha everyday while I’m seeing patients and thinking about the things she taught me.

David Sherman

Martha had a huge impact on the medical community supporting the elderly, through her excellent educational and clinical work. She was very inspirational to work with, even when she would give that Martha “pull up your socks” look 🙂 I will greatly miss her, as will many others…

Chris Rauscher

Martha inspired me to pursue community Geriatrics where I was able to learn of her compassion, strength and grace. I will miss you with heartfelt memories and wishes of peace for John , family and friends.

shel nathanson

Martha has been a fiercely passionate advocate for older adults and a gentle caring clinician whose patients appreciated her deeply. She has been a remarkable teacher and a wonderful friend as well. How she will be missed.

Elisabeth Drance

So shocked and sad to see such an amazing teacher and speaker gone – from several teaching sessions and conferences – her “way” always had an impact on me – when people asked questions, she really listened – her answers were full of just the right detail and buoyed by a good sense of humour.

Jennifer Dicus

I am shocked and saddened to hear of Martha’s death. We worked together over many years She was a strong advocate for excellence and will be deeply missed.

Willa Henry

I had the honor and privilege of working with Martha for a year on the Public Guardian and Trustee committee. Her passion and commitment to Geriatrics was extraordinary but her sensibility about issues was amazing. Martha was an icon in UBC & VGH Psychiatry. This is a huge loss.

Brenda Kosaka

She taught us all so much and was such an inspiration. She believed so passionately in good care in geriatrics and changed practice in vancouver and BC

Amanda Hill

Martha was an extraordinary person and extraordinary physician. Her legacy will be significant and enduring. So many of us have benefited from her wisdom and support. She was a mentor for me for nearly 30 years from when she first kindled my interest in geriatric psychiatry during residency in 1988.

Michael Cooper

Dr. Donnelly was an extremely passionate clinician and educator. I feel fortunate to have learned from her and to have experienced the energy she brought to academic discussions.

Allan Bates

Martha was a kind, compassionate soul who delivered heartfelt and dedicated care to her patients. I will always remember her as an attentive teacher, encouraging residents to learn while preserving the humanity of the whole process. She will be sorely missed – I am fortunate to have worked with her.

John Tavares

This is heartbreaking news. Martha was such a gentle force within our Department in her passionate advocacy for the mental health care of the elderly. She was a mentor, a teacher, a consummate professional and a remarkable psychiatrist. She has left an indelible mark and will be greatly missed.

Jana Davidson

This is very sad news indeed. Many have been taught and mentored by Dr. Donnelly, including myself. Her presence will be missed, but I would like to think that her compassion, integrity, and thoughtfulness will live on in the many students and staff that she has worked with.

Matthew Chow

My hearfelt condolences. Wishing her family peace and comfort.

Saby Ramirez