“I guess nothing really ever starts with one person,” says Marion Cooper carefully. But those involved with getting the Te Omanga Hospice project underway, in the middle of 1978, tend to refer to Marion as the person who pinpointed the need and was willing to do something about it.
As with so many people involved with Te Omanga, Marion Cooper’s interest grew out of her personal experience. “Many years ago now, I sat beside the bedside of a nursing colleague and a very dear friend who, after a six month battle with cancer, was dying. Her courage, stamina and love for her family had given her the drive to make the last six months of her life a time for living and for preparing her family to manage without her. A gallant fight but now the battle was almost over. As I sat with Margaret, the effect of her medication had worn off and her distress caused by severe and unremitting pain tore at my heart. “Please ask for more pain relief Marion”. Of course I did – seeking out the Staff Nurse whose response was “she is not due for medication yet, I will give it early this time but we can’t keep on doing this.” This brave friend was seldom free of severe pain until her death several days later and with all my being I cried – “there has to be a better way!”. At her greatest hour of need and after a gallant fight I could not remove her pain nor help her have a peaceful and dignified death.
Well Margaret, eight years following your death, there was a better way. A way that provides a new dimension to care of the terminally ill. Not a replacement of general practice, hospital practice or nursing practice, but an added facility and an added strength, where there is no dichotomy between science and compassion, one inspires and nourishes the other. Te Omanga Hospice opened its doors to its first patient on the 6th of September 1979. A lot had happened in the year before to make this event possible.
No 1 Bloomfield Terrace, Lower Hutt was purchased in June 1978. A loan was taken out to cover the total purchase price of $63,000 – an act of total faith. At the opening, Sir Roy & Lady McKenzie gave the hospice a cheque for $30,000 – enough to cover the first three months wage bill and a further grant to establish an Education and Research fund.
53 Laings Road was provided by Hutt City Council at a peppercorn rental as the administration office for the hospice. Max, my husband, ably supported by volunteers, undertook all the administration work. Day Care was commenced two days a week, also from this site.
In 1986 Shirley and Roy McKenzie purchased and gave Viard House to Te Omanga. Sited directly across the road from the hospice, at number 4 Bloomfield Terrace, the new facility was called the McKenzie Education and Research Centre and was used for Day Care services, expanded education activities and administration.
Demand for services was putting considerable pressure on the seven beds the hospice had. There was a need to increase the beds from seven to ten. The opportunity to purchase a magnificent property in the heart of Lower Hutt was too good to miss, and in July 1989 the Trustees made a decision to take up an option on the Cenacle, at 136 Woburn Road. $2 million had to be raised to cover the purchase of the property, the refurbishment of the existing building and the construction of a new ten bed Inpatient wing.
No’s 1 and 4 Bloomfield Terrace were sold. The major trusts such as T G Macarthy were generous. Mayor Glen Evans chaired a committee that organised an impressive number of projects concentrated over four months, which raised a total of $700,000.
In June 1991 Te Omanga moved into 136 Woburn Road. The hospice sat very comfortably in its new home surrounded by magnificent gardens and lawns.
On 14 December 2020 Marion Cooper died peacefully. We are grateful for her vision, passion, tenacity and leadership. Her focus was always on the person being at the centre of care and this is still at the heart of what we do today. She was a pioneer in palliative care and leaves a great legacy for the Hutt Valley and New Zealand.