The Originals (Stories of our founders)
Click on the images below to reveal the precious memories
Pam Macpherson made people feel they were changing the world and that the world was there to be changed. Trebly qualified in nursing, law and social work, she was a woman of deep faith and diminutive in stature – this was her only diminutive quality. In 1979, she unleashed ‘the fire in her belly’ to found The Hospice of St Francis...
The nearest hospices then were St Christopher’s in Sydenham and Willen in Milton Keynes. Pam organised trips to both and built relationships with people who became famous in the Hospice movement, including Dame Cicely Saunders. She recruited other professional people who shared that same fire, many of whom had met and been inspired by Dame Cicely including Angela Russell-Smith, Dr Janet Squire and Erica Hughes.
Pam used an acronym familiar in the National Health Service at the time NMTBD (Nothing More to Be Done) to spotlight everything that a Hospice could do. She was careful to say NMTBD was something even the most skilled professionals had to use in the event of no cure, but it was never an acronym for a Hospice. At home and in the Hospice, Pam’s motto was: “not intensive care, caring intensively”. She stressed that we were “not replacing the state, but doing what the state could not.”
She understood from her own intense experience of bereavement the importance of excellent bereavement care and the importance of friendship, of being alongside people, of keeping vigil by the bedside. Pam understood the power of deep peace, the process of recharging oneself with access to beautiful surroundings and for her and many of her first recruits, from daily prayer.
Pam spoke openly about the reality of terminal illness, that it was “no respecter of age, race or sex” and that the Hospice was for everyone.
In 1979, Pam became the Chairman of our first Steering Committee. By 1981, she was the Chairman of our Management Committee and from 1982-1986, she was our Honorary Director of Services.
Read Pam's full story here
Little exists in the Hospice archive to show former nurse Erica Hughes’ contribution to the Hospice in the early years aside from her photo in one or two newspaper cuttings and her name and telephone number, written beside Pam Macpherson’s in a letter Pam wrote to the Rector of St Peter’s in 1979 asking for help recruiting volunteers to galvanise the early fundraising effort. ×
But according to Erica’s niece Mary Shayler, 65, that’s just the way Erica would have wanted it. “She was never one for the limelight. She did what she did behind the scenes and just got on with it and got things done because as a nurse that’s just what you do.”
Erica was a temporary matron at Berkhamsted Girls’ School working with fellow Hospice ‘original’ Angela Russell-Smith when while taking the girls to church, she met Pam Macpherson who ‘suggested we should start a hospice.’
At the age of 53 and with 31-years’ experience of nursing at home and abroad (including as a sister at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the ‘50’s and as a district nurse in Tring) Erica needed little persuading to join the steering committee.
“I said ‘That would be an excellent idea,’ she writes in her self-published family memoir ‘My Inspirational Mother’ in 2006. “I had been interested ever since I met Cicely Saunders at the Staff College for Matrons in 1962.”
“I don’t think she’d ever forgotten meeting Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern Hospice movement,” recalls Mary. “In her memoir, Erica recounts how she met Dame Cicely twice during a prestigious course she did in the early ‘60’s at The Staff College for Matrons run by the King’s Fund.
Read Erica's full story here
Grandmother-of-three, Mary Rattee, 82, still knits for pleasure but 40 years ago, she was a key member of the very first Hospice Bazaar group, devoting her time to creating and making everything from toys, teddies and knitwear to jam, marmalade and patchwork quilts in a bid to raise funds to found the Hospice. Here she shares her recollections...
“In 1978, just over 40 years ago, I, with my husband Colin and children Mike and Chrissi, then nine and 14, moved to Berkhamsted after spending time in America with Colin’s work. I knew no one there and I wasn’t working. One day, I saw a shop open in the town – a little charity shop near Tesco’s which was only there a few weeks. I went in and asked about it, and met a lady, Thelma Childs, who I’m still in touch with. I asked if they’d like some knitted goods. ‘Yes please,’ came the reply – I took in two pairs of babies bootees – the very start of it all for me.
Thelma contacted me and asked if I’d like to join a handicraft group they were trying to form. About 24 ladies met in someone’s front room along the High Street and all decided they could help with raising money for the forthcoming Hospice. This was still very early days, as it was Pam MacPherson and three nuns who had decided they would help to build this Hospice in Berkhamsted. The NHS was getting very crowded and this was an alternative source of help for people.
Read Mary's full story here
‘Selflessness personified,’ according to all who knew her, Berkhamsted School teacher, Angela Russell-Smith was a pivotal player in turning the Hospice dream into a reality.
She co-ordinated the sale of retail and donated goods throughout the 1980’s and 90’s and as a devoted member of the Catholic church in Berkhamsted, galvanised huge support from fellow church-goers and the Franciscan nuns at St Francis House.
From 1990-2004, following her retirement from teaching, she made the Hospice her top priority, leading the organisation as Chair of ‘Council’ (now the Board), responsible for doing much to ‘professionalise’ the Hospice, including appoint our well-loved and respected Medical Director from 1997-2015, Dr Ros Taylor.
“Her enthusiasm was endless and her energy boundless. My greatest recollections are that her home in North Road, Berkhamsted, was always a hive of activity – she was always mending, making, sewing or recycling strange collections into something saleable for the Hospice. Her fingers were never idle. She didn’t drive herself but always managed to get the help she needed for moving goods about."
Read Angela's full story here
Thelma Childs and Mary Rattee ran our first pop-up shop, which opened in May 1980 at the site on Berkhamsted High Street where Aitchisons estate agents is now, making an incredible profit of £1,849 in six-weeks.
Mother-of-four Thelma, now 85, lived on Gaveston Drive, Berkhamsted for 34 years and like many of her fellow Hospice volunteers, was in her 50’s when she first got involved.
She and Mary, who are still good friends and very much in touch, were key members of the very first Hospice Bazaar group, devoting their time to creating and making everything from toys, teddies and knitwear to jam, marmalade and patchwork quilts in a bid to raise funds to found the Hospice.
“I can still remember Mary walking into that first pop-up shop one day and offering to help. She was very reliable.
“We used to sell anything and everything,” recalls Thelma, who moved to Bristol four years ago to live with her son and his family. “The main things we made were patchwork quilts, baby cardigans and children’s and adult’s knitwear, hundreds of pounds of blackberry and apple jam, which one man used to buy by the boxful to ladle on his toast, and marmalade.
Read Thelma's full story here
Dr Janet Squire was our first consultant and medical director. Passionate about palliative care, Janet knew from her own experience about the life-long importance of care at the end of life. ×
In 1979 it was highly unusual for a doctor to be passionate about palliative care, to be meticulous in her attention to detail of exactly what was troubling the patient and family when someone is dying or knows their death is imminent and in bringing awareness to the importance of psychological and family care as well as excellence in symptom control. She was also aware of the importance of faith and spirituality even if you have no faith at all.
Janet told us that like many people it was at first what seemed like a casual conversation with Pam Macpherson that by the end of the first sentence made clear you had in fact received a directive that you would become involved in founding the hospice.
She described those early days as ‘inspiring’ and without Pam, the Hospice would never have come about and how it was so important to start by raising awareness and to combine that with raising money. Whilst many of the Originals shared a faith, Janet said that the founding of the Hospice was always the founding of a place for everyone of every faith and background.
Read Janet's full story here
Reminiscences of Staff, Volunteers and Supporters
Click on the images below to reveal the precious memories
Barbara Burles was the Hospice’s first paid part-time community nurse, starting in post in July 1980 as soon as the first £25,000 had been raised to launch the home care (domiciliary) service.
She’d qualified through the Royal College of Nursing in 1952, and later added to her professional skills with a ‘Care of the Dying’ certificate. While raising her young family, she nursed at a care home in Woburn Green in Buckinghamshire and later in the casualty department at Amersham General Hospital.
But she wanted a nursing role which used her expertise with the terminally ill and their families, supporting them holistically, and ensuring that quality of life continued for as long as was possible, which is where the Hospice came in...
Here Barbara recalls her memories...
“I joined the Hospice in 1980 as one of two Hospice Domiciliary Support nurses, which was a radical innovation coordinated by Pam Macpherson in the early days, together with local GP surgeries.
Either the family GP, hospital consultant, district nursing team or a close relative or friend would ask for the support nurse’s involvement in patient care and with the necessary written consent from the patient’s GP, I used to gather essential medical, personal and family information before a first visit, to assess the complex needs of the patient, relatives and carers.
In providing home-centred support, I worked alongside the district nurse, health visitor or social worker, advising and counselling but not giving medical care.
At the time, this was a pioneering approach to palliative community nursing, initially not fully appreciated by other professionals, so I had to persevere to consolidate my role in the care team, relying on the GP to support me.
Read Barbara's full story here
There can be few people in Berkhamsted who aren’t familiar with Harry Sheldon’s paintings. Berkhamsted’s Story, a book for the millennium, written by John Cook and illustrated by Harry, was distributed across the town and beyond.
Christmas cards illustrated by Harry for the Round Table in the 20 years until the millennium shared images of Berkhamsted and the surrounding countryside to families at home and abroad.
Pictures painted by Harry and donated as prizes for charitable raffles for many years adorning the living rooms of the lucky winners and here at The Hospice of St Francis, we are lucky enough to count Harry, one-time student of LS Lowry, celebrated official war artist for the 8th Ghurkha Rifles and Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, as one of our early supporters.
A beautiful line drawing of his of a long-boat on the canal (above centre) was shown at Berkhamsted Library in September 1979 as part of a public display - including posters and leaflets - outlining plans for the Hospice. It was later sold to raise money for us but not before being reproduced to make notelets and Christmas cards to sell in shops and at the Christmas Bazaar to secure the first £5,000 to get the Hospice off the ground.
Read Harry's full story here
“During my tenure at St Peter’s, church membership was really thriving. We had 1,000 people on the church roll and 300-400 regularly attending Sunday services. The congregation was instrumental in supporting Pam Macpherson’s hospice project.
Pam and her husband John were dedicated church-goers and John was a lay reader at St Peters, so they were well known in the town.
Pam formulated her original idea with the church community, based around prayer, with the love inspired by Christian faith as her total motivation.
She had visited St Christopher’s Hospice (the very first hospice founded by Cicely Saunders) in London, and there she gained in-depth knowledge on setting up and running a hospice."
Read Roger's full story here
Anne has enormous pleasure in recalling her volunteering experiences in the early days of the Hospice...
“At first there was some misunderstanding in Berkhamsted regarding the provision the Hospice might offer; people thought it would be private health care for the well-off, and we had to work hard to dispel that myth. Initially Pam Macpherson was the driving force in the project, along with Angela Russell-Smith (a history teacher at Berkhamsted Girls School), Erica Hughes and Gwen Martin. Angela and Erica were good friends and shared a house. A prayer vigil was held at St Peter’s Church to begin with, and other local churches were supportive; although they couldn’t help financially, they spread the word and encouraged the venture.”
Anne’s professional background had been in orthoptics, having trained at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. She worked at RAF Halton hospital and specialised in the machine diagnosis of eye squints in children and RAF staff, prescribing physiotherapy eye exercises to cure the condition. When she gave this up to raise her four children she made time for community fundraising for the purchase of Shrublands from the nuns who were selling the house, and continued her volunteering for a total period of twelve years until hip surgery became necessary.
Read Anne's full story here
Margaret Pike’s in-laws Geoffrey & Gladys Pike were named in a Berkhamsted Review article by Pam Macpherson about the Hospice’s early days, as being part of a ‘solid volunteer force’ in place by the end of 1979.
‘Indispensable,’ she writes, ‘were Zina Down’s bazaar/craft group, which included exuberant Geoffrey Pike and his late wife Gladys...’
Here, Margaret, 70, who has continued Geoffrey and Gladys’ legacy of support as a Home Box collector herself since 1983, shares her memories...
“My mother-in-law Gladys was a needlework teacher at Egerton Rothesay School in Berkhamsted and my father-in-law Geoffrey worked as a sales rep at John Dickinson’s paper mill in Apsley so it’s hardly surprising that their talents and generous community spirit were harnessed to help start the Hospice.
“They were members of Berkhamsted Baptist Church and very Christian. From what I remember, they, the Macphersons and Eileen and Stuart Fisher (the Hospice’s first treasurer) were in the same Ecumenical Lent Group – there were lots of them around the town at the time amongst the different faith denominations – and word about starting a hospice spread from there as they started to involve friends.
Read Margaret's full story here
CEO of The Hospice of St Francis, 1997-2015, and now a palliative doctor back since 2018.
When I came to The Hospice of St Francis in early 1997, care was delivered from eight beds in a small family house in Shrublands Road, Berkhamsted. All bedrooms were shared except for one tiny single room. There was one day room and no other private place to have a conversation – so I had lots of meaningful chats about life and death in the bathroom with patients and families!
But the care was attentive, holistic and personal – just as it is today
So 22 years on, in a new building that is now 12 years old, what has changed?
Read Ros's full story here
Joan Gentry’s involvement with the Hospice spans over 25 years, beginning when she was 52 - just six months after losing her husband Charles in 1984. ×
The 85-year-old mother-of-three, grandmother-of-four and great grandmother-of-two was our first paid Volunteer Coordinator, organised our Three Bells (bereavement support) Club in the mid-80’s, was Chairman of our Board for seven years, overseeing the move to new premises, and has played an integral role in creating and nurturing our special gardens.
Here she shares some of her recollections…
“I knew about the Hospice from the Snowball Coffee Mornings but my first experience of it was six months after Charles died when my next door neighbour, who was a doctor as well as a Hospice Home Box collector in Abbots Langley, suggested I join its Three Bells bereavement club, run by Dr Hilary Pullon, a GP counsellor nearing retirement who was very keen on psychological support.
Read Joan's full story here
Neil Aitchison, a chartered surveyor and retired Managing Director of Hertfordshire-based property consultants and estate agents Aitchisons, has supported the Hospice since the very start, using his expertise, knowledge, connections and dogged determination to help turn the Originals’ vision into a reality. ×
From providing rent-free office space for the Hospice’s first pop-up shops and negotiating the purchase and sale of its Shrublands Road site to finding land for a new hospice site in Shootersway, he also bought the first brick in the new Hospice Capital Appeal and successfully navigated the complexities of planning law to win permission to build on the Green Belt.
He recalls: “I was determined to win and so were Dr Ros Taylor and the trustees. Instead of being frightened off by negativity, we battled our way through and won.”
Read Neil's full story here
Derek, 84, twice Mayor of Dacorum and Chairman of Tring Town Council three times, became a Councillor in 1971 and remembers being on Dacorum Borough Council’s Planning Committee in the early noughties when the Hospice was looking for land to expand from its original site in Shrublands Road, Berkhamsted, and build a new Hospice. ×
“Joan Gentry, who was the Chair of Trustees at the time and a good friend, used to ring me every day, asking if I could help,” he recalls. “Aitchisons estate agents found this piece of land at the site of the old brickworks off Shootersway Lane but it was in the Green Belt with Brown Field on the boundary and the Council wouldn’t allow any development on it.
“It went to planning with a recommendation for refusal and the Chairman of the Planning Committee supported the officers’ recommendation for refusal.”
Derek however, stuck his neck out and moved that the Committee grant consent against the committee’s recommendation.
Read Derek's full story here