Liz Roe - Local Dartmouth Fundraiser
Liz Roe - Local Fundraiser
Liz is probably best known for her local fundraising efforts for terminally ill children, helping to raise more than £400,000 during the 21 years she spent leading the Dartmouth and District Friends of the Children’s Hospice South West.
This is an exceptional achievement and involved many thousand hours of selfless hard work but Liz is modesty personified and only agreed to By The Dart singing her praises publicly to highlight the wonderful on-going work of the hospice.
Liz’s husband Phil isn’t so retiring though, he’s full of admiration for his kind-hearted wife. ‘It’s the dedication she had for the hospice that I find so wonderful,’ he said. ‘Come rain or shine, she was out in it all doing whatever she could to raise money for the charity.’
As I sat sipping coffee in the couple’s cosy cottage on Bayard’s Cove, Liz explained how she became involved in launching the local fundraising group for the hospice.
She has always had a soft spot for children and, as a former headteacher at a big Birmingham comprehensive school, obviously has tremendous organisational skills, which she put to good use as leader of the group.
She said: ‘I saw in Brian Langworthy’s ice-cream shop a little sign saying Children’s Hospice South West and I thought this is something I could get involved with having been a teacher.
‘I was involved in a church-based children’s society but they announced they were going to allow homosexual couples to adopt children and I thought not with my help you’re not. I believe children deserve a mother and/or a father but not two of the same sex.
‘So I gave the hospice a ring and Jill Farwell who started it all with her husband Eddie, happened to answer the phone. I explained that I didn’t know anything about the hospice so she invited me to come up to Little Bridge House and see. The hospice, in North Devon, was about to be opened.’
In fact the pair had met before, at Helen House Hospice near Stratford-upon-Avon, where Liz used to volunteer at weekends. Two of the Farwell’s three young children, Katie and Tom, had life-limiting illnesses and the family had to travel four hours from their home in North Devon to visit the Oxford-based hospice – then the only one of its kind in the country.
Experiencing the difficulty of traveling so far with young children is what led the Farwell’s to found the Children’s Hospice South West, which now also runs hospices in Cornwall and near Bristol.
Sadly, Jill died of breast cancer in 2004 but Liz remembers her with huge affection. ‘I was inspired by the most wonderful lady in the world,’ she said.
‘Jill was a lady who could inspire and teach in a word alone. She would come to our meetings and just say a few words and they would really inspire the group – that is something we miss.’
After visiting Little Bridge House, Liz returned to Dartmouth where she launched the fundraising group with friends Carol Harding and Vivian Nash. More than two decades later the group is still going strong, although Liz retired last year.
She said: ‘It has been a joyful ride because I feel everything we have done has been successful to some degree. But our fundraising here wasn’t just me, it is everybody, everyone helps. At the start we three ran it for 12 months but we had a few more people join and they have all been wonderful. They’ve all played their own part in it. It’s the teamwork that’s so nice, that’s more important than anything I’ve done.
‘We had so many good friends and the goodwill of the town. All the shops and businesses have always helped as much as they can.
‘I opted out at the end of last October. I needed to stop. The hospice is still in my heart, I still have the bookstand outside my house and little things like that.
‘We have had a wonderful team and they still are a wonderful team. Phil has also been a great support all the way through, he will do anything and has helped with all sorts of things.
‘You can’t do anything on your own, it needs other people.’
As well as providing a welcome respite for parents of terminally ill children and a home-from-home for the visiting youngsters, it’s the caring ethos staff at Little Bridge House have that has made the biggest impression on Liz.
Tragically, Liz and Phil’s son Peter, died in an accident when he was a young boy, and Liz knows only too well how isolating that can be.
‘Having lost a son I know people turn their backs on it, they are afraid of it, but the children’s hospice helps families for years afterwards and that helps them to move on, which you’ve got to do.
‘After Peter died a doctor asked me if I would go and see a family who had lost a daughter to cancer. I did and I joined a group called Families in Grief. I used to go out and see families that had lost children and it’s amazing how deep the hurt goes, and they often need somebody to talk to.’
Over the years, Liz and her team have organised countless fundraisers including annual favourites such as the Dickens of a Christmas Fair in the Old Market, Easter bonnet parades, Dartmouth Art Weekend, Pancake Day races around the Boatfloat and the Posh Nosh regatta food fiesta in Bayard’s Cove Fort which has played host to several passing celebrities, not least actor Ricky Tomlinson and BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr.
The biggest star Liz has crossed paths with, and managed to elicit a promise of hospice support, was the Oscar-winning Dame Judi Dench.
Liz explained: ‘It was a filthy day, raining and cold. Phil and I were sitting at home eating sausage and mash at the table when I saw somebody go past the window. I said to Phil “that was Judi Dench” so he went outside. She looked round and said to Phil “I am who you think I am but I’m looking for a toilet for my little grandson, Sam.”
‘Phil said he could offer her our toilet and she came in, soaking wet and dripping. She’s a lovely lady, just as she is, there’s no side to her at all. Her grandson Sam went to the loo and she had a drink. She asked me what I did and I told her about the children’s hospice and she said if you phone my secretary I will organise something to come to you that you can raise funds with.
‘So I phoned her secretary and she sent me a parcel and in it was a costume she wore as M in the James Bond movie, Golden Eye. It was a pale blue jacket and skirt and it came with a letter she had written to authenticate it. We auctioned it and got quite a lot of money for it. You can’t measure kindness like that.’
Embarking on her octogenarian years and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease hasn’t stopped community-minded Liz from being a busy bee. Like a guardian angel, she quietly spends her time helping others, whether it be volunteering at the Parent and Toddler group at Townstal Baptist Church three times a week, visiting patients at Dartmouth Hospital or walking dogs for those who are unable to do so. And she is just about to help launch a new group at the Baptist Church for young mothers.
‘I’ve always liked helping people,’ she said. It’s a family trait I think. My eldest brother lives on a boat in Worcestershire and he’s left everything, including his house, to Action Aid. I think it’s what makes life worthwhile. Life is made of memories and if they are good and positive it makes it easier getting old.’•
First Published October 2012 By The Dart