S is for Dame Cicely Saunders: Her Work For The Hospice Movement

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Dame Cicely chose to spread kindness by helping to found the modern hospice in Britain. The video above shows her accepting the Hilton Humanitarian Prize on behalf of St. Christopher’s Hospice.

You can discover much more about the ongoing work she inspired at Cicely Saunders International.


She began her career by training as a nurse, but she suffered a back injury that halted that career path. Overcoming the setback, she became a medical social worker and got a job at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.

There she met a dying patient called David Tasma, whose plight revealed the lack of care for the terminally ill.

A 40-year-old refugee from Poland, he was dying of incurable cancer. David had no relatives so Cicely devoted many hours to talking with him about his life.

Apart from exploring his own feelings, they discussed the need to create special facilities for people who were dying. Denise Winn takes up the story in her book The Hospice Way.

“Although the hospital did its best, David suffered much pain and discomfort, both physical and mental.

“It was then that Cicely first mooted the idea of building a special hospital herself, to cater specifically for the very different needs of the terminally ill.

“David was thrilled to be the inspiration for such an idea and when he died he left her all his money (£500), saying  ‘I’ll be a window in your home.’”

Cicely embarked on her mission. She studied to become a doctor and served in several posts.

She then began raising the £500,000 necessary to build a specially designed hospital with highly qualified staff.

Ten years later she achieved her vision with the opening of St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London. Denise Winn wrote:

“A beautiful yet homely building, with a wealth of windows overlooking peaceful colourful gardens as well as a road that hums with life, St. Christopher’s is still the inspiration and model for the modern hospice movement.

“It is a remarkable testimony to a remarkable woman, now Dame Cicely Saunders. And, by the large sunny window in the reception, is a plaque for David Tasma.”

Cicely was interviewed for the radio programme Desert Island Discs in 1994. Here is a podcast of that interview.


You can learn more about Dame Cicely and continuing work at St. Christopher’s at their web site.


Dame Cicely Saunders

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