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  Manawatu Standard

Pioneer of hospice care

Last updated 13:55 13/04/2012

June Gwenda Connor.
Founding nurse manager Arohanui Hospice.
Born Auckland, June 27, 1928.
Died Auckland, March 7, 2012.

The nurse who pioneered a better way of caring for the terminally ill and their families in Palmerston North, Arohanui Hospice's first nurse manager June Connor, is remembered as an inspiration by former colleagues.

Mrs Connor worked as an ostomy nurse, an oncology nurse and nurse consultant in a pain and palliative care clinic run by Arohanui's founding medical director, Alan Farnell, before the Heretaunga St unit opened.

She was part of the hospice project from the mid-1980s, when she worked alongside hospice trust chairman, the late Garth Wallace, to plan a new service and in-patient unit.

While the unit was still being built, she visited and arranged care for early referrals to the hospice in their own homes. Helping people to stay at home, and die at home if that was their wish, remained an integral part of Arohanui's mission.

The hospice opened on May 4, 1991, and for the next nine years Mrs Connor led the nursing team.

Many of those nurses remain, and provided a team tribute: "We still feel a deep love and respect for this fine lady, remembering her ready smile, deep compassion and her knack of making things happen.

"She was instrumental in starting Day Stay; could see its value in linking with the community and providing much-needed outreach to these patients who could extend their social activity and enjoy camaraderie with others.

"Not only as our founder, but in many different ways, we remember June – her wit, kindness and her unswerving commitment to excellence."

Mrs Connor retired at the end of 1999, as what had begun as a cottage-style unit was establishing a reputation as a leader in palliative care.

Recently retired colleague Bev Quinn said Mrs Connor had a great impact on the lives of those she worked with, and would be warmly remembered by the many families she had cared for. "June's philosophy was to create the highest standard of palliative care in a peaceful atmosphere of warmth and welcome, that was also homely.

She said she had compassion for all people, whether they were patients, family members, staff, or volunteers, and instilled the same values in the hospice team in the way they cared for others and supported each other.

The nurses were in awe of her ability to remember everyone she met. "Families returning to hospice were always welcomed at any time, with a hug and a cup of tea in her office."

Her personal warmth was part of what helped make the hospice, which could have been a place of gloom and sorrow, into one with a cheerful, comfortable atmosphere.

It was at her direction that nurses scrapped their still traditional uniforms, but she drew the line at trousers. Skirts were mandatory until after her retirement.

Her own personal fashion style was expressed in shoes.

"June never wasted time or energy. She was always busy. She was a fast driver and a fast walker and like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz she will be remembered always for her red and green shoes."

Mrs Connor was a keen gardener, with a penchant for roses, which grew at home and at Arohanui and were among the flowers that welcomed patients.

Her stewardship of staff included volunteers, for whom she provided regular morning teas. Her banana muffin recipe still features in the kitchen.

She is survived by husband Roland, sons Gregory, Phillip, Christopher, and David, and 10 grandchildren.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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