Farewell to the chief who helped transform hospice

Tom Hill, inset, with staff and patients of Helen & Douglas House during the visit of the Duchess of Cornwall

Tom Hill, inset, with staff and patients of Helen & Douglas House during the visit of the Duchess of Cornwall

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

  • Why are you retiring?

Although I am not retiring through ill-health, a health wobble earlier in the year helped to crystallise my thinking.

I realised I wanted to spend more time with my wife Lillian back in Northern Ireland and that there are other things I still want to do in my life.

  • And what is next?

Firstly, my wife tells me she has a long list of DIY projects. Once those are completed I have some other main retirement goals. I want more time to devote to charity work.

I feel very strongly about making life easier for disabled people. My own son Patrick, who is 36, has cerebral palsy.

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Tom Hill

I have achieved for him all that was possible in relation to treatment, care, education, benefits and, as an adult, truly independent living.

In retirement I intend, using my experience, to help parents who either don’t know the system or find it difficult to articulate theirs, or their child’s, case to get everything to which they are entitled.

Another aim is to play more piano. My fantasy is to tinkle the ivories on a splendid Steinway Grand in the dining room of a luxurious liner cruising round-the-world.

  • What have you achieved at H&D?

I would say nothing on my own. The successes of the last 11 years have been achieved by trustees and managers respecting each other’s roles and working within a clear strategic framework.

This has resulted in many achievements, including becoming a world-leading paediatric palliative care service.

There is hardly a month goes past that we are not asked to advise children’s hospice services in other parts of the world.

Also creating a network of volunteer support that today has an estimated equivalent annual value of £1m.

When I took over as CEO there were eight volunteers on the books, today there are 1,300 volunteers working for the charity throughout Oxfordshire and surrounding counties.

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Tom Hill greets Camilla Duchess of Cornwall

  • What have been your proudest moments?

The first is a charity that is truly ‘owned’ by its community and financially supported by it and second, a charity whose future is secure.

It has, in the last 10 years, been well and truly embedded in its community.

This is in contrast to the charity that I first experienced in 2003 that was so far ‘behind the convent wall’ not even local taxi-drivers knew of its existence or location.

Now H&D is the charity which is owned and supported by the people of Oxfordshire and surrounding counties.

We literally would not be here if it wasn’t for donations from our supporters and we would not be able to do as much as we do without the gift of time and skill from our volunteers.

My replacement has not been chosen yet, but what has been created at H&D is a charity whose future success is assured by the governance and managerial foundations that have been laid.

These will ensure that the charity will continue to make life-enhancing differences to the lives of the children and young adults that it is privileged to serve.

We all like to think we are indispensable, but – while respect and thanks for individual achievements are important – H&D is bigger than any one of us.

  • Have there been any terrible lows?

Christmas 2005 was a very difficult time for the charity. Up until then the medical care at H&D was provided by a local GP practice. The doctors had asked for a substantial uplift in their remuneration, which the trustees and I considered unreasonable and without warning the GP practice withdrew its services. We decided a superior service could be provided if H&D had its own medical team.

With financial support from the Department of Health we started to employ the charity’s own team of part-time doctors that included consultants in palliative medicine.

  • What will you miss about the hospice?

Working for a great organisation with a fabulous mission, the encouragement and support I’ve enjoyed in my attempt to make a difference and the many friends I’ve made during my time in post, plus the daily contact with courageous girls and boys, young women and men who have to cope with illnesses and conditions that will deny them the chance of a normal life-span.

I hope I will never lose the sense of the double injustice their broken bodies and short lives provoke in me.

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