Helen Ritchie

Group matron for Wolverhampton
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The Independent Online

Helen Ritchie, nurse administrator: born Montrose, Angus 25 October 1913; Sister, Cumberland Infirmary 1943-45; Sister Tutor, Royal Infirmary, Glasgow 1945-46; Night Superintendent, Royal London Hospital 1947-49, Matron's Assistant 1949-50; Assistant Matron, West London Hospital 1950-53; Principal Matron, Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton 1953-61; Group Matron, New Cross and Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton 1961-67; married 1968 Dr Thomas Galloway (died 1989); died Linlithgow, West Lothian 6 December 2005.

The Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton, insisted that its matron must be a communicant of the Church of England. It had been so from its foundation in the 1840s, when its chaplains were High Church men. It was still so a hundred years later, in the National Health Service. In 1953 it was made clear to Helen Ritchie that if she was appointed to be matron she must become an Anglican.

Helen Ritchie was a Scotswoman. She had been born in Montrose, where her father was Provost, and she trained as a nurse at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and as a midwife at the Simpson Memorial Pavilion, Edinburgh. Naturally she was a member of the Church of Scotland. But whilst matron's assistant at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, she had taken communion in the hospital's Anglican chapel. So she spoke to the London Hospital chaplain. He arranged for her to be confirmed at St Paul's Cathedral, and she became the matron of the Royal at Wolverhampton in 1953. Her matron's flat was in the former All Saints vicarage.

She was also the Royal's last matron. In 1961 her remit was extended. She became group matron to Wolverhampton Hospitals, which had 1,860 beds. Her task was to amalgamate the nurses at the Royal, the former voluntary hospital, with those of the former local authority ex-workhouse infirmary, and create the new district general hospital at New Cross. The Women's Hospital, the Eye Infirmary and hospitals in Shropshire, such as the Lady Forester Cottage Hospitals at Much Wenlock and Park Street Hospital, Shifnal, also came under her supervision. She drove to them in her Morris Minor.

As soon as she came to Wolverhampton she pioneered many changes in the rapidly developing hospital scene, replacing noisy bed screens with curtains, installing bedpan washers, and introducing a catering officer. She actively encouraged men to study nursing, including the first male nurse to be knighted, Stephen Moss. She was instrumental in getting a League of Friends set up, to give voluntary support to the hospitals. To promote the esprit de corps among nurses, she supported the establishment of a Nurses' League.

She took an active interest locally in her professional bodies, being chairman of the Wolverhampton branch of the Royal College of Nursing and secretary of the Birmingham Group of the Association of Hospital Matrons, and was a supporter of the Nurses Christian Movement.

On retirement, she married Dr Thomas Galloway, a widower, whom she had originally met 24 years earlier when she was a sister at Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle.

Ritchie loved gardening and embroidering. She was a member of the Embroiderers Guild and embroidered kneelers for hospital chapels. And, as a true Scot, she always had a "westie", a West Highland terrier.

Laurence Dopson