Our Tribute to Saint Catherine’s founder Mick Thorpe (1931 – 2024)

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Our Tribute to Saint Catherine’s founder Mick Thorpe (1931 – 2024)

May 10th 2024

With thanks to Mick’s son Chris who has very kindly shared some of his Dad’s background with us

Mick Thorpe was born in Hull in 1931 and after training to be a solicitor set up Thorpe & Co solicitors in Scarborough in 1956. He married Sheila in 1961 and they brought up a large family of five boys and one girl in Scarborough.

In the late 70s he was invited to a local meeting by two Scarborough doctors, Tony Chico, a GP, and David Fletcher, a hospital physician, and a Methodist Minister, Brian Fitzpatrick, who proposed the formation of a hospice.

He was attracted by the voluntary nature of a hospice, taking advantage of the knowledge and life experiences of local non-medical professionals like lawyers, accountants and business executives to work with the medical professionals.

He was invited to join the committee as a legal expert and in 1985 Princess Margaret opened Saint Catherine’s Hospice on Scalby Road. Mick then served as Chairman for a time. Always seeking improvements, wherever he went in the UK or around the world he visited hospices to identify best practice and experience. He always encouraged those working at the hospice, prompting some to widen their Scarborough experience and to stretch their abilities by moving to Hospice UK in London.

Mick’s natural leadership and passion led him eventually to replace the Duchess of Norfolk as the Chair of Hospice UK and one of his most memorable days was when he spent an hour guiding Queen Elizabeth around the new Hospice offices in London. When Mick eventually retired from Hospice UK he was honoured at a farewell function led by the Princess Royal who gave a speech acknowledging in very appreciative terms the contribution he had made to the development of hospice care in this country and abroad.

Alison Skelton, Saint Catherine’s Clinical Services Director, said: “Mick’s work and dedication to hospice services was truly amazing and we were so fortunate to have him as part of the Saint Catherine’s family. His passion and tireless work in supporting hospices will have touched and improved so many lives, for which we are truly grateful. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Mick died on 5 May 2024 at Normanby House where he had been lovingly cared for since January 2023 as a result of Alzheimer’s. His funeral was held at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Green Lane, on 23 May at 1.30pm. Donations to Alzheimer’s Society.

Hospice UK, the national charity for hospice and end of life care, has also paid tribute to Mick. A spokesperson said: “Mick had a deep commitment to hospice care. He was a founder trustee of Saint Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough and played a key role in the evolution of Hospice UK. In 1998 Mick succeeded our founder, Anne Duchess of Norfolk CBE, as Chair of Hospice UK. He also served as a Chair of the Forum of Chairmen of Independent Hospices (now known as the Hospice Boards Council). In many ways, Mick built the foundations upon which Hospice UK still stands.

Mick’s interest in hospice care extended beyond the UK to an international arena. He served as Chair of the UK Forum for hospice and palliative care worldwide and was a strong supporter of the founding of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance. Mick was also closely involved with the establishment of the inaugural World Hospice and Palliative Care Day in 2005. We honour his legacy and commitment to hospice care.”

David Praill, Chief Executive of Help the Hospices (1996-2015), has also shared his personal tribute to Mick:

“Mick was both caring and rigorous. He saw the big picture at the same time as knowing when to focus on details. He brilliantly led the board through the transition of Help the Hospices from a small charity, led by its equally remarkable founder Anne Duchess of Norfolk CBE, which focused primarily on education, into the much larger and more impactful organisation that Hospice UK is today.

“When I started at Help the Hospices in 1996 the CEO of a local hospice came to visit me on my first day. He made it clear that the task ahead for Help the Hospices was to encourage all the hospices across the UK to work more closely together and to speak nationally with one voice. As a sector we are like a ‘sleeping Leviathan’ waiting to be awakened, he said. The challenge was clear.

“Mick, with his legal training, understanding of governance, experience of his hospice in Scarborough as well as at the Forum of Chairmen, was the perfect person to lead the governance transition involved in such a refocus. Alongside the development of closer relationships with local hospices and a ‘national voice’ came the building of a new board, the strengthening of support for education, grants programmes, advocacy and other projects designed to support the development and sustainability of local hospice services. He was also actively involved in the appointments to the first senior leadership team.

“I quickly discovered that Mick was also quite brilliant at scanning the external environment and during our weekly calls he would always have a list of questions to work through; was I aware of this or had we read this article, etc. These encounters also showed his sense of humour as he enjoyed presenting me with a series of questions and there was always at least one I couldn’t answer. He kept us on our toes and encouraged a thinking and enquiring leadership environment.

“Mick was a passionate believer in the holistic nature of hospice palliative care – body, mind and spirit. It was a great privilege to have known and to have worked closely with him. Hospice Care is indebted to him and he deserves to be remembered.”

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