Spotlight On Marianne Sunter, a former chemistry teacher who ‘reacts’ brilliantly when we need her precious time. #wirralhospice #volunteer #wirral #family #hospice #teaching #hospicehero

Marianne 1The phrase, ‘you can take that to the bank’, is confirmation that a valuable item, or a piece of information, is safe and secure. You can rely on it!

Wirral Hospice St John’s has a bank of volunteers who make themselves available, almost at the drop of a hat, to cover holidays and the ill health of other volunteers. They are, by definition, dependable people. Marianne Sunter is one such valiant volunteer.

She gives us her valuable time on main reception when called upon. Her ability to organise and prioritise, not surprising for a former deputy head teacher, is clear. The fact that she’s also very friendly and welcoming brings a mix of skills that are perfect for directing people to our patients and staff at Wirral Hospice St John’s.Marianne 2

Marianne was born and brought up in Wirral. She attended St Laurence’s Primary School in Birkenhead (merged into St Werburgh’s in 2010)  and then attained the qualifications which took her to the Holt Hill Convent school, the sister school of Upton Hall School FCJ (where Marianne actually spent the first five years of her teaching career).

Loving learning and challenging herself at school, she achieved her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award  and was further inspired to choose a career in teaching after gaining her degree in Chemistry at the University of Liverpool.

In all, she spent 38 years in teaching. Her career flourished at Box Hill School in Surrey where she was for 33 years, rising to become its deputy head teacher for the latter 15 of them. Not surprisingly, “I tend to throw myself into every challenge”, Marianne also ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at Box Hill.

In her role, she’s been in private audience with Prince Philip himself and has also met Princes Andrew and Edward, and also Princess Anne. She is happy to advocate and uphold the values of the school she spent so long at, international understanding, democracy, a care for the world around us, a sense of adventure, and the qualities of leadership and service. 

In 1992 Marianne met the love of her life, and future husband, Jim. Jim had already enjoyed a career working in air freight which had taken him around the world. He was, literally, a ‘high-flying’ executive!

At the time, and still maybe, it was a natural move to retire from a fast moving and successful career in one industry to takeover the management of a country pub and hotel. The Running Horses, on London Road in Surrey, is just such a place! It’s also right over the road from Box Hill School and fate brought Jim and Marianne together.

It’s fair to say that the pub wasn’t all Jim had envisaged and just two years later he was working at Box Hill, initially as a groundsman but, like Marianne, was happy to go above and beyond. (Here they are pictured together). In his 16 years at Box Hill he grew their thousands of bedding plants every year, managed several allotments, looked after all the school buses and coordinated the transport for all outside activities. He also found time to make and paint scenery for school plays and run the bars for parents’ events.Marianne and Jim

Jim developed Kidney problems at around sixty two years of age. From 2011 he was receiving dialysis at home under the care of their local NHS (and his personal ‘nurse’, Marianne). By 2015, Jim’s kidneys were failing and he was finally admitted to the Renal Unit at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton. The decision was taken to stop his dialysis and to live out his days as comfortably and happy as possible.

It was Jim’s palliative care consultant, Dr Swift, “Swift by name, swift by nature” Marianne says, who, at the right time, arranged for the transfer to St Catherine’s Hospice in Sussex.

Marianne remembers, “From the moment he arrived at the hospice he was quickly free from pain and felt very peaceful. I was struck by how attentive the hospice staff and volunteers were. Jim’s full name was William James Sunter and at hospital people would refer to him as William. From the moment we arrived, the staff  at St Catherine’s Hospice knew him, like he was known by everyone, as Jim! Just like at Wirral Hospice St John’s, people were friendly, empathetic, compassionate but, somehow, just ‘normal’, fun even… at the right time! Human, I suppose.”

Marianne and stepdaughter, Joanne, were holding hands with Jim when he died on 15th May, 2015.

Marianne had retired to be with Jim and has now re-settled in Wirral. She is a massive advocate of hospice care and takes a keen interest reading the history of the hospice movement and its ethos. She has great admiration for the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in establishing hospice care and shows me an excerpt from an account of her life (by Jennifer Worth of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) and matches it to her own experience;

The primary objective of a hospice is to show that death does not need to be a time of suffering but a time to achieve fulfilment. It encompasses the quiet unsung lives of ordinary people. People who have lived simply in a small circle, doing their best and achieving great things, in small ways. My husband (Jim) was such a person. His life was not spectacular but he was a good man and one of the wisest people I have known. He died quietly and peacefully as he had lived with his daughter and I on either side holding his hands. This is life coming full circle.

Both Jim and Marianne were held in such high esteem at Box Hill (see page 08 at this link by clicking here, that there is now an annual award in their name and Jim’s memory, ‘The Sunter Award.’ This goes to the student who has gone above and beyond the normal course of study every year. (Marianne is pictured here presenting the first award to a young man, Josh Barnett, who she says is always a great ambassador for the school).Marianne 3

Nowadays Marianne is in close touch with stepdaughter Joanne, married to Mark, with granddaughters Georgina 21 and Phoebe 16. They experienced their own sadness in losing a little boy Owen after 5 days who is still remembered by all the family. There’s also stepson, Mike, married to Emma with five-year-old, Leo.

Marianne has two brothers. Eldest, Gerry, who lives in Prenton, is married to Barbara. Their son, Matthew has Marianne’s great-niece, Alice and great nephew, Sam. Gerry and Barbara’s daughter, Claire, lives in Wirral with husband Dave and have more great-nephews for Marianne, Adam 10 and Luke 6.

Her other brother Philip, married to Helen, lives in New Zealand and their daughter Alexandra is married and lives in Missouri.

She also has an Aunt, Catherine known as Carrie, who will receive a telegram from The Queen for her 100th birthday in July this year.

As well as making her contribution to the hospice, Marianne adds her considerable experience in education as the chair of governors of St Oswald’s Primary School in Mollington, Chester.

To relax, Marianne is part of a quiz team called The Soapsuds (they’re based at Port Sunlight’s Lever Club). They are in Division One of the Wirral Quiz League and regularly compete in cup matches organised by the larger Merseyside Quiz Leagues.

What I had to find out from somebody else (not mentioning anyone, but Carole Snow is our volunteer services manager!) is that Marianne also took part in the ITV quiz show, The Chase, hosted by Bradley Walsh. For aficionados, she and another lady, Mia, reached the last two to face The Vixen in the final chase. See the action on You Tube by clicking here.

So, with piles of energy, commitment, knowledge and enthusiasm we’re looking forward to seeing Marianne here at the hospice for a lot of years ahead. In fact, I think we can safely say, where Marianne is concerned, you can take that to the bank!

Author: Billy Howard

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Spotlight On: Liz Munro a fundraising volunteer, ‘par excellence’ #hospicehero #wirralhospice #caring #fundraising #fun # volunteer #thankyou

liz

Wirral Hospice St John’s fundraising office is a hive of activity. There are constant phone-calls and a steady flow of people popping in to make donations, to join various events, sign up for the hospice lottery and drop off prizes (including contributions to our famous in-patients ward’s drinks trolley!) Very often, people from other teams and/or hospice trustees and ambassadors meet in fundraising to share ideas and news from around the place.

Our fundraisers are busy bees. They’re dedicated, driven and conscientious, but, they’ll all tell you, they wouldn’t be anywhere near as efficient without the help of a supportive and highly motivated group of volunteers, each bringing their unique personality, skill and experience to the team.

Today we focus on ‘one of the quiet ones’ (or so you would think) the invaluable and gently effective, Liz Munro.

Liz doesn’t make any fuss in the office. She’s there every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm, handling calls politely while, often simultaneously, packing envelopes, collating information, accepting card payments and sorting through all kinds of fundraising paraphernalia.

When she finds a minute she’ll also get all the teas and coffees in! This unassuming lady is an absolute diamond, the kind of person who, if you had a need she’d help you as much as she could.

liz 1

When I ask her to tell us how she got involved with the hospice and some of her ‘real life’, she’s typically humble: “I’ll tell you everything about me in about 5 minutes and you’ll have nothing to use.” I think she genuinely means it, but there’s plenty worth sharing.

Born and raised in Wirral, Liz attended Upton Hall FCJ before leaving for Durham University where she graduated in PE. Her first job was teaching PE at Helsby Grammar School before moving to Crewe Grammar where she spent a further 11 years. Liz is definitely a sports enthusiast – more about that later!

Her career continued in learning with the education advisory service and, based in nearby Ellesmere Port, Liz became an ‘Education Visitor’. This made learning accessible to people of all ages who might not have necessarily thrived in mainstream education. Liz’s commitment to community and public service has been a mainstay of her life.

Liz finally retired in 2004 when the primary school she was working at, Stanlaw Abbey, merged with another to become Oaks Primary School.

By that time she had already been volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s for 3 years. You see, her husband and the love of her life, Keith, had passed away at the hospice in 2001.

Liz tells me a little bit more about Keith. He was from Tain in Scotland (where they make the famous Glenmorangie Whisky). In the RAF he developed a love of languages and went on to study German and Russian at Edinburgh University. He was lecturing in Russian at the old Liverpool Polytechnic (now Liverpool John Moores University) when they met.

Liz positively beams when talking about her children and grandchildren. Keith and Liz were married in 1978 and Keith brought two children, Andrew and Jamie, to the relationship. Liz describes them, now in their 50’s, as just delightful! They have given Liz four of her, soon to be six, grandchildren. Soon to be?  Yes, Liz and Keith also have another daughter, Annie, who is mum of grandaughter, Ella, and now grandchild number six is due in March. Wonderful!

When speaking about Keith’s time in the hospice, he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, Liz remembers, “He was made to feel so comfortable. The staff and volunteers showed great courtesy, patience and were so attentive to his needs. Their kindness was priceless.”

She recalls a nice story when Keith wanted some peaches for his dessert, “Del Monté, mind” he requested. Naturally, the Man from Del Monté said, YES!

Keith died here in July 2001 at the age of 64.

Later that year, Liz began to volunteer for the hospice. Her first campaign contribution was for Light Up a Life in 2001. Liz would take home the hundreds of remembrance Christmas cards to be sorted and packed for posting to all the people who had made their invaluable donations.

In the next year Liz, with family, friends and neighbours hosted a ‘Titanic’ themed event to raise funds for the hospice. Guests were asked to dress for ‘steerage’ or ‘first class’. A gangplank was built up to the front of the house, adorned with lifebelts, a sailboat positioned next to an iceberg (a sheet draped over Annie’s old swing) in the garden.  A string quartet, featuring Annie, played until fireworks signified the ship going down at midnight. “People still talk about the day, it was Keith’s wish to hold it and we managed to raise a nice sum for the hospice.”

liz 7

Sporty Liz missed her games of tennis with Keith and, late in 2002, a friend encouraged her to have a go at golf. After just a few lessons she was hooked, “like some of my shots”, Liz laughs. Soon afterwards she joined, what was then, Wirral Ladies Golf Club in Oxton.

It wouldn’t be long before Liz became embroiled in life at the golf club. So much so that, by 2011, she was named the club’s Captain . What an honour! However, Liz broke many conventions in 2012 by being chosen for a further year. Historically, Liz was the very last ‘female only’ Captain of the golf club as, to comply with equality law, the club has had both a female and male captain since 2012.

Liz chose Wirral Hospice St John’s as her club’s charity of the year in both years as captain. The members insisting that she would have no problem gaining their support, “Wirral Hospice touches everyone here”, they told her. Again, very welcome funds were raised towards helping the hospice maintain our specialist palliative care and support services.

In 2018, Liz and her golf buddy, Janet Mills, made a personal donation to have the hospice featured on a sign on the 6th hole of their newly renamed Wirral Golf Club. 

Thank You, again and again and again. Liz, you are a Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteer, ‘par excellence.’liz 2

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Ann Dermody, a valiant volunteer at the heart of our Liscard shop #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #caring #wellbeing #fun #shopping #thankyou

Ann DWhen you meet somebody who has been volunteering in our charity shops for over 22 years, it goes without saying; they have made an immense contribution. One such person, Ann Dermody, Irish Ann as she’s known locally, is having none of it, “I’ve gotten more out of volunteering for the hospice than I’ve ever given back.”

Wow! Ann, we need to talk!

At Wirral Hospice St John’s our volunteers are engaged in all kinds of activities that help us achieve so much. If you asked people to tell you what our volunteers do they might say things like, delivering tea and other refreshments to patients, helping at hospice events, working on reception, stuffing envelopes, fundraising, facilitating meaningful activities with patients in our Wellbeing Centre and a whole range of other invaluable duties.

What is sometimes overlooked (not by us at the hospice) is that we have an army of volunteers based in our Wirral community. There are around 120 volunteers in our six charity shops in Heswall, West Kirby, Moreton, New Brighton, Liscard and Claughton.

Our volunteers are priceless. Whether it’s keeping shelves stocked, sorting through a mountain of donated items, hanging clothes, window dressing, serving customers and helping to bring in those vital funds so the hospice can deliver its essential palliative care and support services.

Nowadays, Ann volunteers at our newest shop at Liscard Way, Liscard, which has been open for around 16 months. (It’s next door to McDonald’s).  Ann migrated from our New Brighton shop where she worked for around 20 years.

I get to Liscard at 9am, the shop is already open and it’s already a hive of retail activity. Wallasey people are up early for a bargain and Ann is in the middle of helping a customer. At the end of their transaction the customer leaves with a cheery, “thank you, see you soon, Ann.” They all know her!

Eventually we get to sit down in the office at the back of the store and chat over a cuppa. Ann’s got some notes prepared and below is her ‘real-life’ story;

I was born in Ireland on March 5th, 1947. Both of my parents died very young. 6 months after my father died my mother died after giving birth to me. I was the youngest of 8 children.

In those days there was only the orphanage to go to, so the girls went in one and the boys in another.

Life felt cruel and hard, the nuns were harsh. No love was shown to anyone and we were not allowed to show love to each other. I never understood this. We never got a Christmas present. I left aged 16 and was given over to work on a farm.

A year later I went with a friend to London. London was so busy with all kinds of different people I’d never met or understood before. It wasn’t long before I moved to the relative calm of Wallasey to stay with my brother. Here I met my husband.

My blessing in life is that I have four wonderful children. Through them I learned what love is. I now have 8 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Although my husband and I divorced, I didn’t worry. I was strong, as long as I had my family, I was okay!

As my children grew up I had more time for myself. I went back to college and passed ‘A’ Level Maths, English and Sociology. I proved to myself that I wasn’t stupid, as the nun’s had said.

I’ve done voluntary work for around 30 years. Firstly, I volunteered for the charity, Shelter, and now 22 years for Wirral Hospice St John’s. I love doing it; every donation is a gift of kindness. Many people I know, who have donated goods, want to repay our wonderful nurses for the care they’ve given to someone they love.

The shops are here to make as much money as we can and, to borrow a famous saying, every little helps! People are also happy when they receive a bargain. I see love and kindness every day. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days because where else would you see this but in a charity shop.

Ann D 2

(Ann is pictured between fellow volunteers, Pam and Pat, and with Liscard Shop Manager, Mags (right)).

In her engaging Irish brogue, Ann compliments Mags, “I don’t call her that, I call her Margaret, it’s a beautiful name. She knows her business, she’s very focused and looks after us volunteers!”

I ask Ann about volunteering at the hospice itself and she says she has nothing but tremendous admiration for those who do, but it’s not where her experience most benefits us. She talks about the people who come into the shop, and other volunteer colleagues, who have had family experience of the hospice, her empathy for them and just how much that they want to help.

“I like people. It’s lovely to have people around and to help them sometimes. We owe it to every person who donates to get the best possible return for them and for the hospice.”

Ann, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’re truly fortunate that you’re one of our hospice heroes.

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Norma Edwards, a vastly valuable volunteer in our Wellbeing Centre #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #caring #thankyou #wellbeing #fun #activities

Norma with SantaEvery Wednesday and Friday morning you will see Norma radiating positive energy in our Wellbeing Centre. She’ll be making people a cuppa, lending a friendly ear, giving her home-spun advice and helping to facilitate creative therapies with patients. She’s a lovely person. Someone you would trust with your most valuable possessions.

I asked her if we could share her story and she made a date to have a cuppa with me in Wirral Hospice St John’s Hub Café. I was planning to have a chat and jot down some notes to work from, but Norma comes prepared with a written account of her life and how it has led to volunteering. That certainly made my job easier (which I’m all for!) so, in (almost) her own words, here’s Norma’s story.

My life as a volunteer began in the early 1990’s. I’d promised myself around ten years earlier I would give something back as soon as I was able. You see, in 1984, when he was only nine years old, our son, Andy, underwent major surgery to remove a benign tumour within his spine. The fantastic skill of the surgeon, backed up with wonderful nursing care and Andy’s own quiet determination led to a remarkable recovery, exceeding everybody’s expectations.

We all persevered and Andy made up for lost time in his school work. As my husband, Reay, and I waved him off to University I found myself with time to spare.

I trained as a volunteer at, what is now, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, working two sessions a week on their Delamere Day Case Unit (which is dedicated to delivering chemotherapy to patients) getting to know patients and their families as they underwent, often several months of, treatment.

I had 11 very happy years there but, for a brief period, I myself had to rely on the great personal support of the staff and fellow volunteers on Delamere. I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma – a rare eye cancer. The treatment was a fairly strange and lonely experience. Five days of continuous plaque radiotherapy, in isolation. My professor was pioneering a more conservative treatment designed to minimise sight loss.

It was a new procedure with nothing guaranteed but I agreed to take the risk. I feel incredibly fortunate that it was a complete success. My tumour was dealt with and now, I visit the eye cancer research unit every year, twenty years on my sight is as good as anybody’s my age. Once again I felt incredibly fortunate.

As life got back to normal, working part time at a local pharmacy, volunteering and enjoying life there was no major drama for several years.

In 2007, Reay took early retirement and we were looking forward to a new beginning for us both. Fatefully, it was not to be. Reay was diagnosed with prostate cancer and after rallying following early treatment, he was admitted to Wirral Hospice St John’s.

What a wonderful place we knew we were in. Although Reay’s condition gradually worsened we experienced great care on every level. Nothing was too much trouble and the support that was extended to us all made us feel like we were home from home. Sadly, Reay’s illness was advanced and he died soon after.

In time I knew I wanted to get back into volunteering. I also wanted to repay the kindness, care and support I’d felt at the hospice. So I started working for a day a week on what was then called daycare. This grew into day therapy and is now the Wellbeing Centre where I work alongside Penny as an ‘activities volunteer.’ Two mornings a week I love getting involved in art therapy, group work and especially our card making.Norma 2

Reay was at Unilever for 30 years and outside of the hospice Norma is an active member of the company’s retirement group. Norma has a full life on top of what she does for the Hospice. Day trips, overnight breaks, theatre visits, lunches, other social events and holidays are all part of the fun. She also enjoys spending family time with Andy and daughter in law, Tracy, and also looks forward to spending time with her other relations in South Wales.

Norma

I ask Norma to conclude by telling us of her general thoughts of what she experiences at the hospice,

“The atmosphere is always, warm, welcoming, friendly and informal. The air is often punctuated with laughter with our patients. Some people may have an old fashioned idea of hospices and I just think, Wow! It’s not like that at all. It’s the kindness, isn’t it? There is a lot of ‘normality’, if you know what I mean. I love the banter that happens but also know when somebody just wants to talk and then it’s my job to listen, adding a kind word if I can. It is a pleasure to play a small part in it all.”

It’s no small part, Norma, and long may it continue.

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Bill Collins, 80 years young and a #wirralhospice #volunteer for more than 30 years #hospicehero #caring #fundraising #congratulations #wellbeing #patientcare #wirralcommunity

Bill Collins with CaroleDevoted Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteer, Mr Bill Collins, speaks from the heart, “I love the place, I love the people, I just love everything about it!”

Bill is a big part of hospice life. He’s volunteered at Wirral Hospice St John’s for over 30 years, and, nowadays, he adds massive value to our inpatients ward every Tuesday evening. He feels the special emotions of Christmas time too – he has given two or three hours of his time every Christmas and Boxing Day for all of those years.

On the Inpatient ward at the hospice, Bill will serve patients and their families with drinks, make sure people have fresh water and, whenever asked, will be available for a welcome chat. Our volunteers help to take some of the time pressures from the ward staff and, although Bill won’t take credit, we know it must be more than a little cheering and interesting for any patient, or family member, who spends a little time just chewing the fat with Bill.

He doesn’t say it but, it’s clear from our conversation, Bill is also a team player. He always wants to mention the hard work and dedication of fellow volunteers, especially his friend Margaret Halewood who has been volunteering with him on the ward for 25 years. He also credits volunteer receptionists Tina Hughes and Karen Ellis, who are part of the Inpatients ward Tuesday evening volunteer group.

When asked what he thinks of the hospice and the people he meets or works alongside, his passion shines through; “I think the world of them, I’m just so proud to be a part of it. All our services and all the different people, patients, families, volunteers and staff, we’re like a family”,

Bill Collins

Bill got involved with volunteering after his own Mum, Nell’s, progressive illness worsened and he spent time as the main carer for her and later when his Dad, Jack, also became ill. He’d taken early retirement from Shell at their Thornton research facility, now part of the University of Chester, where he’d been a laboratory steward, to fulfil his carer’s role.

After his Mum passed away, Bill was asked to consider volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s. He remembers applying and as soon as his ‘induction’ was completed he “loved it straight away.” Joyce Reeves (later Jones) was the first Matron of the hospice, serving between 1983 and 1998. He fondly recalls Matron Jones as “a wonderful woman.”

He chuckles heartily when he recounts the time the hospice obtained its first bed hoist. The nurses insisted that Bill was the ideal candidate to test the equipment. “I was like a puppet suspended in mid-air, while the nurses were enjoying the spectacle, laughing their heads off.” (It would be a ‘Health and Safety’ thing nowadays, so new volunteers shouldn’t worry!)

Bill keeps himself fit by swimming four times a week, doing plenty of walking and looking in on his ‘older’ neighbours in Bromborough. What is remarkable, and might be news to some of his friends around the hospice, is he had a triple heart by-pass in 2001! Typical of Bill, he plays it down! “I’ve just listened to the doctors, I watch what I eat and I’ve had no major problems!”

We’re really glad to hear it, Bill.

He enjoys his holidays and short breaks. Trips to North Wales are a pleasure he thoroughly enjoys but, most of all, Bill looks forward to his annual trip to the Algarve, with a gang of people who have become firm friends over the years. He stays in a little village called Sesmarias not far from the tranquil Praia de Coelha beach and a short drive into the bustling town of Albufeira. Lovely!

Bill Collins 2

Bill helps the hospice in other ways too. Each year he helps to run the St Barnabas church hall Christmas Fayre, in Bromborough, with his good friend, Betty Richards. The first year he did this he made £63 and now, following this year’s event, selling hospice Christmas cards and calendars, Bill has now raised over £25,000 since becoming a volunteer.

By writing a special poem in recent years for our annual Light up a Life switch-on service in the hospice gardens, Bill has also made an extra special contribution to the whole Wirral community.

This year’s poem  is so poignant and I ask Bill where he gets his inspiration. “I think of all the people I’ve met at the hospice down the years. I write for the families who have been touched by what we do, my mum and dad, and my sister, Barbara, and her family. Being involved as a volunteer has made me a better person.”

Here is Bill’s heartfelt poem:

Memories in Lights

You’re in my thoughts every single day,
Of things we did and things we’d say,

How we laughed, the times we cried,
Always together, side by side.

When we hugged and when we kissed,
The times we sat and reminisced.

It’s hard to take, now we’re apart
But you’re forever in my heart.

I see your face within the light,
And feel you’re here, with me, tonight.

Wonderful, Bill!

In a magnificent coincidence, this inspiring story is published on Bill’s 80th birthday (6th December, 2018).

Some, of his very many, hospice friends gathered to say, “Many Happy Returns, Bill, thank you so much for all that you do for Wirral Hospice St John’s.”

Bill Collins 80 Group

Author: Billy Howard

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