Dr. Juanita Nita Casselman (Née Wood), BA’45

Juanita CasselmanNita was born in Vancouver on April 11, 1921, and died August 5, 2012, in London, ON, of complications resulting from a serious injury.

When her father, a blacksmith, suffered a head injury, the family was plunged into poverty. She was raised by her mother, Louise, brother, Jimmy, and sister, Winnie. During the Great Depression Nita contracted tuberculosis and went to Tranquille Sanatorium. She dreamed of being a physician – an extraordinary ambition for a woman at the time. She had to work to pay her way until her marks earned her a scholarship.

She met her husband, Bruce Casselman, BA’43, MA’44, in a chemistry lab at UBC. Together they entered the world of medicine at the University of Toronto. Nita was one of eight women among 168 graduates in the Class of 1952. She went on to study neurology in London, UK, and Montreal. Mindful of the way that mental health was affected by life experiences and organic influences, she studied psychiatry at Columbia University.

In New York, Montreal, Ottawa, and finally London, ON, she helped a remarkable range of people, young and old, artists, musicians and architects, men and women in business and university, carrying on her practice long after her classmates had retired. She taught in university and became a mentor to younger women in several professions.

Bruce was quietly ahead of his time, supporting her desire to practice medicine and willing to participate in house-keeping and raising Jay (Ian) and Ken. A research scientist and government official active in the WHO, Bruce would be with her until he died in 1995.

Nita thought she would spend her 80s writing, playing piano, and gardening, but in 2003, a car accident left her with a serious spinal cord injury. She endured persistent pain and progressive loss of the use of her limbs, but maintained her engagement with life and her interest in people.