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Obituary: Helen Taylor-Thompson

by
02 October 2020

Mildmay

Helen Taylor Thompson

Helen Taylor Thompson

Professor Lord McColl writes:

HELEN TAYLOR-THOMPSON died peacefully on 6 September, aged 96, after a brief illness.

She was born in 1924. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father, who was a missionary in Kenya, died when she was nine, leaving her in the care of her step mother, whom she described as a most wonderful mother.

In 1942, Helen joined the SOE and found herself at such an early age arranging airdrops into German-occupied France, notably a third of a million counterfeit pounds for the resistance. After the war, she ran her own successful business for several years, and then turned for the rest of her life to charity work.

Helen was a bundle of energy who fought all her life for those who were disabled and less fortunate than herself. From the early 1980s, this was played out mainly at the Mildmay Mission Hospital, where she ran the Friends of Mildmay.

This small general hospital was developed as a result of the work of deaconesses from the Mildmay Mission in Dalston, east London, visiting patients in Tower Hamlets during the 1866 cholera outbreak. The work continued after the outbreak and resulted in the building of a Christian Mission Hospital. This was taken over in 1948 by the new NHS, and was affiliated to the London Hospital, but allowed to maintain its Christian witness.

When it was closed down in 1982, Helen found herself chairing a steering committee set up to fight for its reopening as an independent charity. She led a march to Trafalgar Square and, eventually, her campaign, supported by local and international people with an interest in Mildmay, was successful in securing its re-opening.

She then chaired the board of governors of the new charity, which initially provided care for young chronically sick patients. She led the appointment of Dr Veronica Moss as medical director in October 1986, and also that of Ruth Sims as matron six months later. When challenged, as a Christian hospital, to think about providing care for people with AIDS, Helen immediately took up the challenge.

When asked, the local health authorities and hospital consultants, were very keen that Mildmay should take on the care of dying AIDS patients, who at the time were feared and shunned in hospitals and even in the cancer hospices. The Board, led by Helen, agreed that Mildmay should take up this work. Helen, with Ruth and Veronica, a powerful trio, presented a plan to the then Minister of Health, Sir Norman Fowler, to open a hospice programme at Mildmay for people with AIDS. With his support, and agreement for ring-fenced money, the programme went ahead as the first of its kind in Europe, and became a successful model for excellent end-of-life care for people with AIDS.

The Mildmay flourished in its new position as a hospice, in spite of some initial local opposition and became a leading teaching centre for those looking after AIDS patients. Helen’s vision and drive were an inspiration to all; she just made things happen in spite of opposition. Her pioneering soon came to the attention of the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was very impressed when she visited the Centre. Other visitors included the Princess of Wales (many times), Princess Margaret, and the Duchess of York.

President Museveni also visited when he heard that many Ugandans were being treated at the Mildmay. So impressed was he that he asked for a centre to be built in Uganda. During a visit to the country, Helen signed a Memorandum of Agreement. Ruth Sims, by now the chief executive of Mildmay, with Helen, approached the ODA Minister who was Lynda Chalker at the time. The result was an impressive treatment and care centre built 11 miles outside Kampala, on the Entebbe Road. President Museveni opened the centre and became its patron.

It provided treatment for people with AIDS, and set standards of care that challenged others to keep up to date with developments in AIDS treatment as well as in maintaining holistic care. It became a major teaching centre for Africa and its influence spread to many African countries. It still continues to set excellent standards of treatment and care.

Were it not for Helen’s strong faith in God, her vision, her commitment, and her excellent leadership of the initial steering committee, the Friends of Mildmay, and then the board of governors, we would not have witnessed the development of Mildmay through all its amazing phases.

Helen went on to set up and develop a new charity, Thare Machi Education (now Education Saves Lives), using videos to provide preventive education about HIV and other illnesses prevalent in developing countries.

In 1990, she was awarded the MBE, and, in 2005, the OBE. In 2019, she was awarded MD (Hon.) from the University of Buckingham for her charitable work, particularly in the field of medicine.

Helen was an inspirational visionary and an entrepreneur. She was happily married to Derek for more than 60 years and was motivated by a deep Christian faith. Helen was a great warrior who lived a full and productive life.

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