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 a passionate advocate of community action. 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 now famous in founding the modern Hospice movement, including Dame Cicely Saunders. Pam spoke openly about the reality of terminal illness, that it was “no respecter of age, race or sex” and that the Hospice was to be for everyone. She recruited other passionate professional people among them Angela Russell-Smith, Dr Janet Squire and Erica Hughes.
Pam applied the principles of community activism, taking an acronym commonly used by the National Health Service in the 1970’s NMTBD (Nothing More to Be Done) to shift perceptions about death and dying for the better. She was careful to say NMTBD really meant ‘no cure’, but in a Hospice NMTBD marked the beginning of everything. At home and in the Hospice, Pam’s motto was: “not intensive care, caring intensively”. She stressed that Hospices were “not replacing the state, but doing what the state could not.” She talked about 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. She understood from her own bereavements the life changing impact of bereavement care.
From the beginning, Pam made it clear that local people should expect the best at the end of their lives and in bereavement, and the best meant a comprehensive professional team of doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and counsellors, a well-trained team of talented volunteers and a thriving education programme accessible to all. Now we regard all this as part of what defines The Hospice of St Francis. Pam was a powerhouse. She persuaded speakers of national and international repute to come to Berkhamsted, Hemel Hempstead, St Albans and all points in between to inspire and educate local people to commit to funding a free Hospice and to keep that funding coming in.
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.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” was the prayer that she used to sign off our Newsletters in which she reminded her readers that “every pound given would help to provide a peaceful hour for someone in our care.” Pam’s faith was with her every step of the way. She announced our very first study day on 4th October 1980 - a day to herald the beginning of our teaching and training programme, a date that is also the Feast Day of St Francis.
From the off, she ensured the fundraising had a profile in the local community. Our first shop was a pop-up shop. Pam persuaded Neil Aitchison that six weeks between lets at the site which is now Tesco in Berkhamsted was more than enough time to set up and run a shop. She coined the terms, “a sale of ‘specially nice things” and ‘not too white elephants.’ That first shop raised £1,845 in six weeks – in today’s money £9,000 - with the support of volunteers aged eight to 80. A “New Memorial Fund” was launched at the end of 1980 with a gift from the Pheby Family of Berkhamsted equivalent to £31,000 today. Every milestone or notable landmark in life was a reason to give to the Hospice: “Moving house? – don’t repack those bottom drawer gifts, bundle them up for the Hospice.” To encourage everyone, Pam talked about gifts that given to The Hospice to celebrate the safe arrival of a baby or the recovery from illness and of course there were fashions shows, cycle rides, weight loss challenges, feats of daring do, horse-racing nights, yoga classes, art exhibitions, plant sales, raffles and coffee and cake sales. Pam celebrated everyone who gave and explained the difference those donations made - big and small. Even when you went on holiday Pam’s voice would be in your ears– “Have a wonderful trip and bring back a gift for the annual Hospice Christmas Bazaar” or, “Spare a thought and a pound for those who won’t have another holiday.” .
By 1981 the Hospice was reaching out across a locality of over 360,000 people. Her first team of staff and volunteers, were caring for over 110 people at home. The first Hospice building – the former Franciscan convent at 27 Shrublands Road was already in Pam’s sights. There were planning obstacles and objections but the feeling in the Friends Groups right across the locality was one of fraternity and family. Pam assured everyone that whatever the obstacles, in God’s good time (sometimes said through gritted teeth), they would be overcome. She said “Everyone has a talent that gets better for using it and the Hospice needs all the talents.” The Hospice Team became known for spontaneity, gentleness, professionalism, smartness, generosity of time and spirit, good humour and empathy.
By September 1982, The Hospice of St Francis opened its doors at 27 Shrublands Road. A year later the number of people receiving care and support had trebled and Pam launched a new campaign for inpatient beds. It was a hugely ambitious campaign – hospital at the time was thought to be the only safe place. By the summer of 1986 the alterations at Shrublands were complete and the first Inpatient Unit opened. Pam thanked everyone by saying, “If you have given even 10p towards the building of St Francis you are a shareholder. Make sure that you claim the bonus of the care now available to you, your friends, workmates and neighbours. Help is only a telephone call away.”
Pam worked tirelessly for the Hospice for more than 30 years. Her husband, a respected clergyman and local mover and shaker in his own right, worked throughout to support her and the Hospice behind the scenes. Pam’s passion was not without controversy. A familiar figure at Spring Garden Lane when it opened Pam worried we had moved too far away from the community to which we belong. At the same time, whenever she was in the new Hospice she would go into each room as the beds were made and call silently to mind ‘peace, love and strength’ ready to welcome the next guest and their family. Pam’s humanity, faith, expertise, detailed attention, tireless communication and irresistible call to action are the DNA of The Hospice of St Francis. The free Hospice of St Francis belongs to the people who fund it, thanks in huge part to the vision of Pam Macpherson.
The need for hospice care is projected to rise by at least 40%. Now our ambition is to double the reach of our care. Like Pam we want to keep pace with local people’s needs. If we doubt that ambition we only need to ask ourselves whether the fire in our belly would pass muster with Pam.