08 December, 2020

The Hospice Trees of Remembrance located throughout the community’s shopping hubs have special significance this year.

As well as inviting shoppers to write on a cardboard ‘bauble’ in honour of a loved one who has died, every tree is a tribute to Orewa resident Carolyn McCondach MBE, a gifted artist and hospice visionary.

Carolyn died at Harbour Hospice in October after a difficult illness, leaving a legacy that permeates almost every aspect of the local hospice service.

Carolyn in her studio blog

The ‘Light up a Life Christmas Tree Appeal’ was one of many campaigns Carolyn established to drum up awareness and support for hospice as it was building its service in the North Shore, Hibiscus Coast and Warkworth/Wellsford communities.

The Christmas campaign has endured for more than 30 years, along with the hospice shops, partnerships with community groups and the patient and family services that Carolyn helped set up as a trustee, fundraiser and visionary.

Her husband Stuart said Carolyn 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 and began investigating the concept of specialist palliative care for young patients.

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

In 1988, the North Shore Branch of the Hospice Foundation of Auckland became the North Shore Hospice Trust with Sir Robert Muldoon as Chair. Carolyn was a founding trustee.

She overcame her nerves to speak to organisations such as Rotary, Lions, Probus, Kiwanis and Bowling Clubs, developing lasting relationships. It was with a contact made with the Devonport Lioness Club that she launched the Light up a Life Christmas Tree Appeal, envisioning that the trees would one day be in every centre on the North Shore. Carolyn’s daughter Fiona designed the two cards – a candle and a remembrance wreath – that donors would hang on the tree for the next two decades.

Working with her fashion designer brother, Colin Cole, Carolyn held a fashion parade that raised enough to pay the hospice coordinator’s salary for a year. She formed a formidable partnership with founding committee member Elsie Tillett, and together they started the hospice shops.

Wilf Marley, who is still on the Harbour Hospice Trust, was a great source of help and encouragement. He visited Carolyn 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% of requests for terminally ill patients to be admitted to hospital were unsuccessful, and 19% were turned down more than once.

The hospice branch made a commitment to providing inpatient facilities and sought four beds in an appropriate hospital. Carolyn later noted that she had “fond memories of trundling around the North Shore” with other committee members, inspecting private hospitals and rest homes for potential hospice beds.

In 1989, Carolyn met a group of women belonging to a Share Club whose portfolio had been devastated by the recent financial crash. She persuaded them to establish a Women’s Fundraising Committee and raise funds for a hospice inpatient unit.

Carolyn chaired this fundraising group for seven years and organised a Christmas Fair, the Right Royal Ball and Starganza. She established an annual tennis tournament which raised over $90,000 in its best year. Carolyn said, “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 Carolyn was awarded an MBE for services to the community.

She served on the hospice trust for 25 years and after retiring, turned her extraordinary talents to being ‘Super Nana’, running beautiful events with her friend Sue, and creating a breathtaking legacy of art.