From the Cudeca Hospice, Benalmadena: It is with great sorrow that we have to give you the saddest news of our almost 30 years of history. Our beloved Joan Hunt passed away today 24th of June 2021.
Her last days were calm and peaceful, with moments of humour and laughter, and others when Joan decided to take charge of the situation. At all times she has been surrounded by the love and care of all of us at Cudeca.
She told us that she was ready, and that she needed to go. And she went as she wanted to, quietly and without fuss, she has left us on her Saint´s day, in Spain San Juan.
She has left us her message for these moments:
“Don’t be sad, celebrate my life, not my death. I have had a full and very happy life. I have worked hard, but always with enjoyment, surrounded by the great Cudeca team, of whom I am so proud and whom I admire so deeply. I have always been moved by the love, respect and dignity with which everyone at Cudeca cares for people at the most difficult time in their lives.
Don’t send flowers to my funeral, send a donation. You all know that the donations I asked for at my husband Fred’s funeral were the starting point and the reason why I decided to create a special centre to care for patients at the end of their lives, and for their families. Well, now it is my turn, and I say the same again: send donations to provide care, support and company for those who need us most.
Take care for Cudeca. I have faith in you: ensure that my legacy goes on giving life to the days of patients and their families, through Cudeca’s special kind of caring, which is no more nor less than the special kind of people you all are.
And finally, remember me with joy. Being remembered means I once lived, and I shall be in peace. I send you all much love, and success and growth for Cudeca. I took the path less trodden, and I leave Cudeca in the loving hands of those who travelled with me.”
Rest in peace, dear Joan.
A portrait of Mrs. Joan Hunt
To understand the grandeur of Joan Hunt we must retrace our steps and learn something about her personal story before she took a well-deserved early retirement on the Costa del Sol.
I want to acquaint you with Joan, the child, student, daughter and wife; Joan the apprentice, worker and manager and lastly, Joan the business woman, directing the care enterprise that is the Cudeca Hospice.
Joan Hunt was born on the 5 January, 1929 in Liverpool, the eighth daughter in a family of nine brothers and sisters. Her parents, working class and devout Catholics had come from Ireland.
Young Joan would soon come to know how hard life can be. When she was two years old she became seriously ill and began the medical treatment that would be a prominent feature throughout her childhood. She had contracted severe septic arthritis and the infection attacked her hip. This meant that while still a small child she had to undergo several operations and long stretches in hospital until she was six which left her with a limp for life.
In 1937 the family moved to the outskirts of London where there were more job opportunities for her father. When World War II broke out, Joan was only 10 and her mother decided to send her away from the city to be with her uncle, aunt and cousins in the country.
When she returned to London in 1943 the war was still not over but Joan began her studies again. Her mother realised what a bright and clever child she was and despite a lack of means, found a way for her to study for a profession that would open doors, allow her to stand on her own feet and fend for herself. At the age of 14 her mother paid for private secretarial classes: she learned accounting, shorthand, typing and she was offered a job with a family leather business. Initially, she just made the tea and ran errands. She rose to shorthand-tyist and finally to management, accounting and sales for the company.
When Joan was only 16 her mother died at the age of 54 and she had to take care of the family as well.
In spite of her hip problems Joan made every effort to overcome her limitations and live the life of a normal girl of her age and so one day at a dance she met her future husband Fred. This was neither as easy or as happy a time as she would have liked. Her decision to marry an older divorced man caused a rift in relations with her family because of their deep Catholic beliefs.
She nevertheless did marry Fred and carried on with her working and social life in London until she was 32 when she decided that after 16 years with the same firm she had to move forwards and put her skills and experience to better use.
So, that was how she went to work for the large multination company Berger Paints in 1961. Her skills were recognised immediately and six months later she was already the Managing Director’s personal assistant. Her commitment and efficiency helped her to progress in the company to such an extent that in 1974, in a world that still had little time for women in business, she was appointed Head of Personnel Administration. She managed the administration and the payrolls for the company’s eight factories in the U.K that employed a total of 14.000 workers. Thus, Joan Hunt became one of the very few women of that time to occupy a post in senior management.
We know more about the rest of her life, about her early retirement spent on the Costa del Sol. And yet again, another setback. Her husband Fred died of cancer. But not even the illness that snatched him away from her could destroy her spirit. On the contrary, it awoke a positive, caring energy in her that became the driving force of something as wonderful as her vocation to help others at the end of their lives. Against all odds, at the age of 65, this English woman who knew few people in Malaga, who did not speak the language and had few resources decided to create the incredible project called CUDECA.
Joan always remembers the day she returned to the Red Cross hospital after Fred’s death and announced that she was going to devote the rest her life to improving the care of terminally ill cancer patients and their families and asked doctor Marisa Martin if she was ready to accompany her on this journey. Joan inspires determination and the ability to accomplish aims.
Her vision was to improve the care of terminal patients in Malaga by creating a centre of international reference. Her past experience in management gave the project an organisational business structure to ensure its transparency (audited by KPMG and Fundación Lealtad) and sustainability and a spirit of social commitment to the suffering of people facing a terminal illness. To begin with, her leadership skills involved friends and neighbours and then, little by little the support and commitment of people in general, the international community living on the Costa del Sol, businesses, the media, associations and institutions until the project involved the whole population of Malaga.
Since then Joan Hunt has devoted her life to this project and to promulgating, and involving society in, the value and importance of palliative care. The strength of her moral and intellectual commitment has made it possible for her to create the first specific palliative care centre with in-patients, a day unit and a rehabilitation department, a home help programme and a programme of psychological and social care. The Cancer Care Foundation CUDECA is an independent, non-profit making foundation that, since its creation, has a strong commitment to the situations of patients and their families facing a terminal illness. This includes socio-health assistance, promulgation, involvement of volunteers and society in general, specialist training and constant improvement through research into palliative care.
Aided by her tenacity, passion and her wide experience in management the Cudeca dream came true and has more than justified the efforts made over the last thirty years. Instead of enjoying her well-deserved retirement, she has lived a second working life, even more intense than the first.
Now I hope that knowing more about Joan, the difficulties she has had to overcome, you will be touched and see this woman as an example of triumph over adversity. Joan has always grasped life positively and has been able to make the most of all the opportunities presented in her life.
Joan Hunt is an example of will-power, a constant example of social, moral and intellectual commitment. She believes firmly in the strength of the community and dedication to society. With her example, she has inspired hundreds of volunteers, built bridges with society, with ordinary people, with public and private institutions, with sportsmen and women, with artists. Thanks to all this Cudeca exists, cares for, soothes and attends more than 1,500 people in the last phase of their lives.
She has fought to achieve this with strength and dedication and has made this proverb her motto: Vision without action is just a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare. She has succeeded in linking both concepts, the vision of a centre where the hardest moment is made easier and the capacity to act and make it real.
The present time needs people like you, Joan with your inspiration, courage, determination and enterprise.
You have shown us by your deeds what it means to think of other people, to invest effort in their dignity to finally achieve a happier and more just society.
Joan, we are all so proud of you. Only a person who appreciates the value of life can devote themselves to caring for others.
Thank you, always and forever, for your generosity, your strength and your smile.
TRE sunflowers, dedicated to Joan…courtesy of TRE’s Vanesa Salem