Hospice patron a 'visionary'

Last updated 11:50 13/11/2012

Visionary: Marion Cooper, wearing her new badge of office as Te Omanga Hospice patron, gets a hug from granddaughters Maxine and Kenzy. At last week’s ceremony, Marion thanked her sons and daughter for their support. ‘‘They have grown up with parents committed to a cause for much of their lives, which can’t always have been easy.’’

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Te Omanga Hospice co-founder Marion Cooper last week became its patron but no-one believes she will treat the role as being a background figurehead.

At a gathering of community leaders, supporters and members of the Cooper family, hospice board chairman Graeme Talbot said Mrs Cooper was the "visionary" who had underpinned Te Omanga's success. With the death of Lady Shirley McKenzie earlier this year, the board was unanimous on who should be the next patron.

Mr Talbot said he realised she would still come to every board meeting to continue to offer guidance and advice - "You can count on it," she interjected.

Mr Talbot recounted the influence of Mrs Cooper and her late husband Max. In 1976 she transformed a nursing bureau she had established into a charitable trust to allow fundraising to provide nursing care for the terminally ill for those families who could not afford private care.

Two years later, she approached the Wellington Division of the Cancer Society and secured funding for 70 hours' care, primarily in their own homes, for terminally ill people. The resulting agreement was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

With Sir Roy McKenzie, the Coopers established a seven-bed Te Omanga Hospice in Bloomfield Tce in May 1978. With the Government refusing financial help, they set it up themselves, with Marion and Max taking out a mortgage against their own home.

Mr Talbot raced through milestones since, including: establishment of home care services, extension of care to non-cancer patients, the move to the bigger hospice in Woburn Rd, provision of hospice staff to Hutt Hospital, and this year the creation of a clinical nurse specialist to better support co-operation with GPs and aged-care facilities on caring for the dying.

"I want you to ask yourselves: In those years since 1976, how many people have benefited from that vision?" Mr Talbot asked. "We've got to thank you."

Mrs Cooper said hospice was not about one person, but many staff and volunteers.

"Everyone in this room represents a part of a very large team, and you've all given your time and your special skills."

Among those present she spied Richard Martin, who "as a young solicitor", helped gain charitable trust status for the Community Domiciliary Nursing Trust and who had helped out Te Omanga ever since.

"Professionalism is a very important part of hospice care but it can sometimes be misinterpreted," she said.

"Is professionalism defined as someone who puts a white coat on at the door and leaves their personality behind. Or is it someone who leaves their white coat at the door and brings their skills, experience and compassion to the patient's bedside.

"I like to call [hospice care] a marriage of science and compassion."

Staff have learned much from patients and their families over the years, "in fact in many ways our programme of care has evolved from what they have taught us".

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