Tribute to Elisabeth Gale
Thank you to Richard (Dick) for supporting and helping me to prepare for this tribute presentation in the memory of a very special person, Elisabeth (Liz) Gale. A Tribute presentation that I hope she will approve, unlike another presentation many years previous, when Liz was formally introduced to high society as a debutante, a ‘female beginner’, cultured and refined and ready for marriage!
When I first heard that Liz had been a ‘Deb’ I thought this terribly romantic, however, none of you will be surprised to hear that Liz hated it and especially as much of the preparation for her grand presentation to high society had to be undertaken whilst her mother was ill in hospital. To make my romantic fantasy complete I had Dick gazing at Liz through a crowded room at the ‘debut’ presentation when in fact they met whilst ice-skating at the Queensway Ice-rink in London. At that time Dick had just left the army and was working for Mobiloil and Liz was working as a travel guide for Yugotours, a travel agency in Yugoslavia. From that day on the ice Richard and Elisabeth formed a lasting partnership that gave life to Nicky, Cathy and Richard junior and in turn seven lovely Grandchildren.
However not everything in life ran smoothly and especially when it came to driving – Liz hated driving, would never drive on a motorway and Dick wondered actually how she ever passed the test and especially when on her last driving lesson when she ended up on top of a roundabout in Stratford! This was in the year, 1960 and just two days before her marriage to Dick. And on the very next day he lost the wedding ring!
During her illness Liz spoke of a most wonderful life, for which she was grateful and expressed sadness in not being able to see her grandchildren grow up. Liz loved her grandchildren and was so proud of them all. She spoke fondly of their sporting achievements, having been a keen sportswoman, and loved treating them. I had the thought of Liz going off to the most exclusive shops. But no, a trip to Commercial Road and a shop in Primark was actually her idea of a fun day out with the younger generation.
During her long and happy marriage to Dick, Liz did however experience many wonderful opportunities and interesting events such as trade dinner dances when Dick worked for the brewery; travelling country wide to support sporting events such as rugby, shooting and of course her own passion – the beloved horseracing and most recently Frankel who she was still spurring on even in her final days of life.
Liz had what could be described as a privileged upbringing, the eldest of three children, born to Alan and Melissa Walker. Her father worked in London in the sugar industry and during the war they moved to Angmering in Sussex. Liz was educated at The Sacred Heart Convent in Woldingham, a renowned Catholic Independent Girls Boarding school where she developed her passion for sport, probably at the expense of her academic studies! Not only did Liz enjoy the traditional ladies sports such as tennis, she was also Captain of the cricket team! Tennis however was her love, which she continued to enjoy throughout life and was equally enjoyed by Dick. Liz had the opportunity to have some coaching by the late great Fred Perry and Dick had achieved a standard, which offered him the opportunity to enter Junior Wimbledon.
Liz was a remarkable woman with a capacity to embrace everyone she met and from all walks of life; a true Christian with a strong faith that supported her throughout life and up until her death. Liz would often say, “I just love people” and indeed that warmth of heart drew people to Liz too. A love she extended to everyone she met and in turn awarded her many many strong and loyal friendships that have stood the test of time, to include all members of her school class as well as others from other year groups; not many people achieve this and these were the days before social networking when efforts had to made to maintain friendships and especially when many of her former chums were from Ireland.
Liz had always wanted to nurse, so as a mature student she embarked on her State Registration, under the direction of Professor Jean Hooper, who kept her in check and negotiated time off for racing at Ascot! Getting her SRN was so important to Liz and something she always wanted; a profession that includes both science and art and medium where many believe healing is delivered through the hands on application of care. Liz was refined in her craft, which was then further enhanced with the skilled application of massage, aromatherapy and reflexology, which she eventually delivered to patients at home who were under the care of Countess Mountbatten House. So Liz was actually one of the first Hospice at Home nurses, which led her in later years to develop a Hospice at Home service for The Rowans Hospice.
Throughout her life Liz did so much to support others; this included taking the sick to Lourdes and to Rome and it was indeed whilst in Rome that Elisabeth was blessed by the Pope. Recognition of Liz and the work she undertook was formally acknowledged when she received the prestigious Badge of Honour from the League of Mercy for her role as a volunteer at a presentation in Mansion House a couple of summers ago. What a wonderful day this was and despite Liz undergoing treatment for cancer she made the journey up by train and even thought to make delicious sandwiches for Nicky and I who accompanied her. That was Liz, thoughtful to the last.
I first met Liz when I was a novice palliative care/hospice nurse. It was 1986, I was 25 years old and I had just been appointed as a junior staff nurse at Countess Mountbatten House in West End, Southampton. Liz was a wonderful mentor and friend and what I will always remember is how much fun we had despite the inevitable sadness of working within a hospice.
After leaving CMH as a nurse Liz was invited to become a Trustee of the Friends of Countess Mountbatten House, the charitable arm of the NHS Hospice. Liz however continued providing complementary therapies to patients at home and it was one evening over a decade ago that Dr Huw Jones and I spied Elisabeth in The Rowans Hospice car park. A former CMH patient had been admitted to The Rowans and she was coming in to give him some treatment. Huw and I had just left a Board meeting and almost simultaneously looked at each other and then to Liz with the same mind to coerce her into applying to be a Trustee for The Rowans Hospice. And she did and without coercion!
Liz was actually renowned for fun, making the most of life and enjoying it to the full. Life and laughter exuded from Liz, it was infectious and everyone around her felt the benefit of her company. I remember many happy times and so will you and it will be these happy memories that stay with us and bring a smile; like the time Liz and I were at a Help the Hospices conference and during the last, rather heavy, session she whispered in my ear and said – let’s go to Betty’s tea room – the conference was in Harrogate – however on the way she suggested a detour – we entered a rather sophisticated wine bar – it was 4 pm and Liz was ordering champagne! My did she love a glass of champagne – she would often say that if she ever needed feeding by drip – could it be champagne.
Sadly it wasn’t champagne in the drip at the end of her life, more a cocktail of medicines to alleviate suffering. It was a real honour and privilege to care for Elisabeth in the last few weeks of her life and I know Liz also benefited from the kind support from the Rosemary Foundation whilst at home. In those final weeks Liz retained her dignity and continued to offer friendship and support to those who visited. Liz thought hard about why her time to die was rather protracted, however came to the conclusion that ‘he upstairs’ just wasn’t ready for her yet. Liz described the time before her death as offering her an opportunity to have ‘good conversations’, which always started with two words from Liz. These two words, ‘how’s things?’ I can hear her now, opening her heart to listen to whatever the other person needed to or wanted to say. This time before her death also afforded her the opportunity to observe the care that was being offered by family and friends to Dick and also how everyone was supporting each other. This gave her such peace, knowing that care and support would get people through. Liz was a true matriarch, caring deeply for her family, her friends and the people she served as a nurse, trustee, and Honorary Chairman of The Rowans Hospice. Missed but never forgotten.