Thursday 18 January 2018

Woman who made lasting difference

Tribute: Hospice Foundation's Mary Redmond

Dr. Mary Redmond
Dr. Mary Redmond

Once in a while somebody comes along who makes a real difference to people's lives. One such person was the inspirational and visionary founder of The Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), Dr Mary Redmond, who passed away at the age of 64 this week.

A corporate lawyer, author and brilliant academic, she was an intelligent and empathetic woman driven by a passionate commitment to her causes and clients.

Dr Redmond was inspired to establish the IHF following the death of her father at Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross in 1985. At the time there was only one hospice in Dublin and she felt strongly that hospice care should be available for all who needed it.

She offered her legal and administrative skills to fundraise, saying in a letter at the time that until her father's last illness she had never encountered the difficulties faced by families in such circumstances.

The letter marked the beginning of the IHF, which was formally set up in April 1986.

At its core was the philosophy that the life of a person who is dying should be made "worth living to the end so that peaceful death becomes an achievement, not a defeat". This still remains at the core of the philosophy of the IHF 30 years later. Dr Redmond had the vision to build a national organisation to promote and support hospice care for all. As part of her preparation for the IHF she visited the late Dame Cicely Saunders whose work in London is regarded as the starting point of the modern hospice and palliative care movement, grounded in a holistic approach to human needs.

While the IHF began with specific objectives, mainly in relation to fund raising for Our Lady's Hospice, it took on a broader goal and set about raising money for a new hospice on Dublin's Northside. The result was St Francis Hospice in Raheny, which launched a home-care service in 1989 and opened its doors as an inpatient unit in 1996.

Showing bravery, courage and inspirational leadership, she rose above territorial issues to help build a national hospice movement. Less than a year after the IHF was established, hospice movements at different stages of development were set up in Galway, Sligo, Cavan, Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny, Donegal, West Wicklow and Kildare.

Today the IHF has evolved to support care for both cancer and non-cancer patients throughout the country, and a national programme for children with life limiting illness.

Focus on bereavement care is also an important element of IHF work and Dr Redmond identified this as a core area for hospice care early on by inviting the late Therese Brady to focus on setting up bereavement volunteer and education services in Our Lady's and St Francis Hospice.

Dr Redmond achieved highly in her chosen profession and was widely regarded as possessing one of the finest minds of her generation. She taught law at UCD at 19 years of age and also studied at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. She was a Fellow and Dean of Studies in Law at Christ's College, Cambridge, up to 1985 and was made an honorary fellow in 2004.

She wrote key textbooks, including one on employment law, and had her own legal practice, which was subsequently merged with law firm Arthur Cox. She became a consultant to the company. Dr Redmond also held many senior board positions, including Smurfit and the RTÉ Authority and served as a deputy governor of the Bank of Ireland.

But it was for her social entrepreneurship that Dr Redmond was best known. In 1999 she established the Wheel, a support and representative body connecting community and voluntary organisations and charities across Ireland.

A woman of many talents, Dr Redmond published the book The Pink Ribbon Path in 2013 under her married name, Mary Ussher, detailing her journey living with cancer. The book offers comfort and strength to the thousands of women who go through breast cancer treatment every year. She also wrote a children's book, published in 2014, titled Marlena The Fairy Princess - Making Friends, a delightful and funny story about recovering stolen fairy treasure.

It was a proud day for Dr Redmond and her family last June when she was conferred with an honorary Doctor in Laws (LLD) by Chancellor Mary Robinson in Trinity College Dublin.

Even after she moved on and left the Irish Hospice Foundation, she was always available for advice and was hugely supportive to me since I became CEO in 2011. Charming, engaging, motivated and focused, she was a special breed - a woman of courage and determination who got on with the job in hand with spectacular results, leaving a hugely important legacy.

Dr Redmond died peacefully in hospital at dawn on Easter Monday. She is survived by her husband Patrick Ussher, her son Patrick and her mother Máire; her sisters Rady, Catherine, Gerardine, and Janice; her brother Liam and her three stepdaughters, Kitty, Charlotte and Felicity.

She will be hugely missed.

- Sharon Foley, CEO Irish Hospice Foundation

A new book in aid of The Irish Hospice Foundation - Sons+Fathers - goes on sale in bookshops today

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