Cicely Mary Saunders, physician and writer, Died at 87


Cicely Mary Saunders died on the 14th of July 2005 at the age of 87 of cancer; she was an English Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer, involved with many international universities.

Her father disapproved of her desire to be a nurse, and so instead she went to St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she read politics, philosophy, and economics, intending to become a secretary to an MP.

After the outbreak of the Second World War she abandoned her course and defied her parents’ advice, enrolling as a student nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1944, where she was recognized as a potential high flyer.

However, her back was still painful, and she was advised her to quit nursing. After returning to Oxford for a year she gained a “war degree” and qualified as a social worker, or what was then called a lady almoner, in 1947.

In 1948 she fell in love with a patient, David Tasma, a Polish-Jewish refugee who, having escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, worked as a waiter; he was dying of cancer.

He bequeathed her £500 (equivalent to £13,106 in 2013) to be “a window in your home. This donation, which helped germinate the idea which would become St Christopher’s, is memorialized with a plain sheet of glass at the hospice’s entrance.

While training for social work, she holidayed with some Christians, and was converted to Christianity.

A year later, she began working at St Joseph’s Hospice, a Catholic establishment, in Hackney, East London, where she would remain for seven years, researching pain control.

There she met a second Pole, Antoni Michniewicz, a patient with whom she fell in love.

His death, in 1960, coincided with the death of Saunders’s father, and another friend, and put her into what she later called a state of “pathological grieving”.

But she had already decided to set up her own hospice, serving cancer patients, and said that Michniewicz’s death had shown her that “as the body becomes weaker, so the spirit becomes stronger”.

In 1967, St Christopher’s Hospice, the world’s first purpose-built hospice, was established.

The hospice was founded on the principles of combining teaching and clinical research, expert pain and symptom relief with holistic care to meet the physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs of its patients and those of their family and friends.

It was a place where patients could garden, write, talk – and get their hair done.

There was always, Saunders would emphasize, so much more to be done, and she worked in this spirit as its medical director from 1967, and then, from 1985, as its chairman, a post she occupied until 2000, when she became president.

In 1969, he and Cicely and another couple bought a house in Sydenham, which they shared; they called it their kibbutz and it was a lasting domestic arrangement.

Marian’s wife died in 1975, and in 1980 he married Cicely; she was 61 and he was 79. That same year she was made a dame.