Dorothy Clifford

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Dorothy Marion White, nurse: born Swansea 28 June 1916; Deputy Chief Nursing Officer, Department of Health 1959-76; OBE 1976; married 1989 The Rev Paul Rowntree Clifford; died Crawley, West Sussex 19 January 2002.

Dorothy Clifford was a deputy chief nursing officer at the Department of Health who might have become a singer of the quality of Kathleen Ferrier but wanted to be a missionary.

She had a "lacklustre academic record", she said, at the Haberdashers' Aske's School, New Cross, leaving without taking the School Certificate examination, but as a late entrant to nursing had a distinguished record as a student and thereafter was fast-tracked into nurse administration. In retirement she worked tirelessly as honorary secretary of St Wilfrid's Hospice, Eastbourne, steering it from an idea to a reality, and married a professor of theology, who wrote a book on dinosaurs. The daughter of a Baptist minister, the Rev F.C. White, she entered her religion as Baptist on enrolling as a student nurse, but became a High Anglican.

"Dotty" White only decided to become a nurse at the age of 28. After leaving school at 16 she entered a secretarial course and worked for the Commercial Union for three years. She also took voice production lessons and was offered an audition as a contralto by Covent Garden for the professional chorus. This she turned down as she felt a calling to full-time Christian work. She continued her musical interest and was church organist at West Ham, where she played for a series of Sunday services broadcast on the radio. It was only in retirement that she made her musical début on television in a Songs of Praise programme. She never became a missionary in China because she failed the medical. She did secretarial and youth-club work at the West Ham Central Baptist Mission and during the Second World War organised the evacuation and rehousing of air-raid victims.

In 1944 she went to the London (now the Royal London) Hospital; she qualified as a nurse three years later, and then took her midwifery training. The dual qualification was a prerequisite for appointment as a sister at the London and in October 1948, as soon as she became a midwife, she was appointed a relief sister. She became sister of women's medical in 1954 and night superintendent in 1954, leaving a year later to be assistant matron at Leeds General Infirmary. In 1957 she was appointed regional nursing officer at the South East Thames Regional Board.

She became deputy chief nursing officer at the Ministry of Health, first under Dame Kathleen Raven in 1959, then under Dame Phyllis Friend. She liaised with the regions and represented the department on the General Nursing Council.

She retired to Eastbourne, where her key role in setting up St Wilfrid's Hospice – with a priest, Father Chris Spender, and a doctor, Basil Kent – is recorded in Dr John Surtees's St Wilfrid's: the story of the Eastbourne and District Hospice (1994). She was honorary secretary until it opened in 1983, when she became a trustee and vice-president.

In 1989 White married a widower, the Rev Paul Rowntree Clifford, former President of Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, and sometime Professor of Religion at McMaster University (author in 1977 of The Death of the Dinosaur). They eventually moved to Warnham, West Sussex.

"Dotty" was described as an "unobtrusive nurse" but she was also a determinedly ambitious one. Her career was atypical. She had wide experience in nursing administration, but a short experience at ward level.

Laurence Dopson