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Hospice visionary leaves a Christmas legacy

Flagstaff Team

One of Hospice New Zealand’s most well- known regular fundraising initiatives, Trees of Remembrance in shopping centres, will have special significance this year as its originator, North Shore identity Carolyn McCondach, is among those remembered.

The gifted artist died at Harbour Hospice in October, after a difficult illness. She leaves a legacy that permeates almost every aspect of the local hospice service, including the idea of inviting shoppers to donate for a cardboard bauble to write on and hang in honour of a loved one.

The Light Up a Life Christmas Tree Appeal was just one of many campaigns she established to drum up support for Harbour Hospice as it was building its services stretching from the Shore up to Hibiscus Coast and the Warkworth and Wellsford communities.

The appeal has been running for more than 30 years, along with the hospice shops, partnerships with community groups and the patient and family services that she helped set up as a trustee, fundraiser and visionary.

Along with her husband, Stuart, Carolyn had hoped to establish a children’s hospice after their daughter Louise died of leukaemia in 1981, at the age of 14.

Carolyn was “extremely disappointed” by the manner of Louise’s dying, he says, and began investigating specialist palliative care for young patients.

When she came across a fledgling group in Takapuna then called the North Shore Hospice Society, “she quickly pounced, moved in and, in true Carolyn fashion, took the show over and became chairperson.”

In 1988, the local branch of the Hospice Foundation of Auckland became the North Shore Hospice Trust with former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon as chair.

McCondach, a founding trustee, overcame her nerves to speak to service organisations about the work of hospices and build lasting relationships.

Hospice heroine… Carolyn McCondach established many and varied fundraising campaigns

It was with a contact made with the Devonport Lioness Club that she launched the Light Up a Life Christmas Tree Appeal. Daughter Fiona was called on to design the cards – a candle and a remembrance wreath – that donors decorated trees with for the next two decades.

McCondach’s brother, noted fashion designer Colin Cole, was called on for a fashion parade that raised enough money to pay a hospice co-ordinator’s salary for a year.

In a formidable partnership with founding committee member Elsie Tillet, the hospice shops were started. Wilf Marley, who is still on the Harbour Hospice Trust, supported the move. He visited McCondach in hospital a few months ago and reminded her of their excitement when they raised their first $100,000.

Today, Harbour Hospice fundraises over $4 million a year.

By July 1987 the hospice had 90 active homecare volunteers from Devonport to Whangaparaoa, Orewa, Warkworth and Wellsford. That year a survey by GPs found that 24 per cent of requests for terminally ill patients to be admitted to hospital were unsuccessful, and 19 per cent were turned down more than once.

The hospice branch made a commitment to providing inpatient facilities and began inspecting private hospitals and rest homes to find its first four hospice beds.

In 1989, McCondach met a group of women belonging to a share club, whose portfolio had been devastated by the recent financial crash, persuading them to divert to fundrasing for the inpatient unit. For seven years she chaired the fundraisers and organised a Christmas fair, the Right Royal Ball and Starganza.

She also established an annual tennis tournament which raised more than $90,000 in its best year. She remarked: “It makes me smile to remember these men, all managing directors of their own businesses, on their knees, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps.”

In 1991 McCondach was awarded an MBE for services to the community. She served on the hospice trust for 25 years. She is survived by her husband of 57 years, Stuart, now in Orewa, and three children: Fiona, James and Esther.

• Find Trees of Remembrance from 11-24 December in Farmers stores on the North Shore, including at Takapuna, and also within the wider Shore City Shopping Centre and at the Milford Shopping Centre and outside the Arcade at 5-15 Victoria Rd, Devonport (thanks to Vista Linda).

Farmers are selling a limited edition Hospice bauble for $10, with all funds donated to local services.

This article originally appeared in the 22 January 2021 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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