The Rev Prue Dufour

Nurse pioneer in the international hospice movement
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prue Royle's father and mother met when he was chaplain of Guy's Hospital, London, and she was a nurse there. In a medical and nursing family Prue, like her eldest sister, turned naturally to nursing as a teenager and with her father a prebendary she not surprisingly entered the ministry later in life. Throughout her career her very practical faith was her driving force. She was a pioneer nationally and internationally in the hospice movement. She herself died in a hospice.



Prudence Elaine Royle, nurse and priest: born Rudgwick, Sussex 28 April 1942; MBE 1983; ordained deacon 2000, priest 2001; Team Minister, Blackdown Hills Team Ministry 2003-04; married 1965 The Rev Brian Clench (two stepdaughters; marriage dissolved 1993), 1997 David Dufour (three stepsons); died Taunton, Somerset 21 August 2004.



Prue Royle's father and mother met when he was chaplain of Guy's Hospital, London, and she was a nurse there. In a medical and nursing family Prue, like her eldest sister, turned naturally to nursing as a teenager and with her father a prebendary she not surprisingly entered the ministry later in life. Throughout her career her very practical faith was her driving force. She was a pioneer nationally and internationally in the hospice movement. She herself died in a hospice.

Her mother, who was a physiotherapist as well as a nurse, educated the three sisters and brother at home in Sussex, until they reached secondary school age. Prue completed her schooling in Switzerland. She then took a "gap year" in Bangladesh, returning to start her nurse training at the Middlesex Hospital, London. In the children's ward she befriended an eight-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumour, the same condition which she herself was to die of aged 62.

As Prue Clench, she became a staff nurse on the radiotherapy ward at the Royal United Hospital, Bath. In 1965, aged 23, she had married a patient whom she met in a nursing home where she was nursing. The Rev Brian Clench had been admitted after a car accident in which his wife had been killed.

Ten years later she was sponsored by Bath District Health Authority on a month's secondment to St Christopher's Hospice, in London. She returned, determined to make Cicely Saunders's type of care there available locally for people suffering from, or as she would put it, "living with" cancer. "I was met with polite opposition, prejudice, apathy and withdrawal." If many of her nurse and doctor colleagues did not want what they termed a "death house" in Bath, however, Clench had her supporters too.

She left the NHS in 1977 to set up the Dorothy House Foundation to care exclusively for the terminally ill. A committed Christian, Clench chose the name because Dorothy translates as "gift of God". At first the service was domiciliary. She became the first specialist domiciliary nurse, working from her own home. The service grew with financial backing from the Macmillan Cancer Relief Society.

In 1979, however, Dorothy House opened its first in-patient unit for six people in Bloomfield Road, Bath. This was Clench's own home, which had been sold to the trust the year before. The following year the house next door was acquired for an education and administration centre. The organisation continued to expand and in 1995 moved to new premises. Clench was asked to take on additionally the post of national adviser to the Macmillan Nurses. In 1983 she was appointed MBE for her hospice work.

With the award in 1988 of the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship for improving understanding and friendly relations between nations, Clench developed her international contacts. She toured in the United States and was concerned with the establishment of a hospice in Minnesota; the British Council invited her to lecture in Japan; she had contact with starting a hospice in Romania; she visited Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In the mid-1980s Clench became concerned that, as the NHS became involved in the financing and provision of palliative care, so the ethos might change. "Many of the founders of the modern hospice movement were inspired by their Christian faith and attributed in different ways their involvement in pioneering palliative care to 'God tapped me on the shoulder'," she wrote in unpublished notes which she intended to work into an autobiography. "It was not the big issue, but as integral to their zeal and the resilience needed in the Sixties and Seventies as their professional qualities."

A young Christian GP, Peter Atkins, part-time medical director of St Barnabas Hospice, Lincoln, had similar concern that the Christian roots of the hospice movement would be forgotten. Clench and Atkins set up a conference at St Columba's House, a retreat centre in Woking, Surrey, in 1986. Out of this emerged the St Columba's Fellowship "to promote and sustain the Christian foundation on which hospice care is based".

In 1995 she moved to Windsor as Director of the Thames Valley Hospice. It was in Windsor that Clench, in her fifties, trained for the priesthood. "I did not overestimate the workload, which has nearly brought me to burnout at times," she wrote as member of the Blackdown Hills team ministry, based on Pitminster, in Somerset. She brought the nurse's practicality to things liturgical:

Baptisms require technique on the day! Infants are simpler, although one needs to have worked out which arm to hold the child and still be able to pour the water and read the accompanying words.

Parishioners loved her.

Clench had a delicious sense of humour and never seemed to be without a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips, comments the nurse Chaplain of the Royal College of Nursing, the Rev Dora Frost:

She was resilient and determined, and seemed indefatigable. She would not hesitate to jump into her car and travel miles to carry out her work, often returning home late at night as a consequence.

Sadly Clench's first marriage broke down. "I marvel that Brian and I remained together for 27 years - years that held more joy than disappointment," she wrote. "But it was probably a marriage that should not have been." In 1997 she married David Dufour. "To the onlooker we are now an eccentric couple immersed in the Church," she joked. Prue Dufour had no children, but she loved her stepchildren and stepgrandchildren, who, with her husband, survive her.

Laurence Dopson

Comments