Obituary: Trevor Clay

Trevor Clay, nurse: born Nuneaton, Warwickshire 10 May 1936; RGN 1957; RMS 1960; Staff Nurse and Charge Nurse, Guy's Hospital, London 1960-65; Assistant Matron in charge of Psychiatric Unit, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City 1965-67; Assistant Regional Nursing Officer, North-West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board 1967- 69; Chief Nursing Officer, North London Group HMC 1970-74; Area Nursing Officer, Camden and Islington Area Health Authority 1974-79; First Vice-President, International Council of Nurses 1989-93; Chairman, Board of Management, Portsmouth University School of Medicine 1991-94; Deputy General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing of the UK 1979-82, General Secretary 1982-89; FRCN 1985; CBE 1990; author of The Workings of the Nursing and Midwifery Advisory Committee in the National Health Service 1974, Nurses: power and politics 1987; died Harefield, Middlesex 23 April 1994.

TREVOR CLAY was nationally and internationally known as a nursing leader. He came to the fore during the 1980s when he was General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). During his time there it became the fastest-growing trade union and the largest outside the Trades Union Congress. By the time he retired it had over 285,000 members. He was one of the first trade-union leaders to recognise the power of all-party political lobbying, introducing parliamentary officers for the first time to the RCN. He also understood and used the might of the media to win over the public and politicians to the nurses' case for better pay and the retention of nurses in management.

Clay was many things to many people but he was first a nurse and proud of it. But memories of his great contribution to the development of nursing during the past two decades bring forth his other attributes. He led the Royal College of Nursing at a time of great change and thrived on the challenge. His political acumen was second to none. He was a skilled media commentator, and at ease on radio and television: he spent so much time in the Radio 4 Today studio that the late Brian Redhead referred to him as the 'district nurse' who popped in to see them every morning.

Clay had powerful skills as a speaker and an ability to sway an audience in minutes through the power of his words. He was at his best at the annual congress of the Royal College of Nursing, with a thousand or so nurses to woo with the magic of his speeches. It was not unusual for Clay to receive several standing ovations in ihe course of that week. His strength was his utter honesty; a conviction and clarity of thinking that made people sit up and take notice.

The day before he took over as General Secretary in July 1982 he said: 'I passionately believe in nursing . . . I feel as much a nurse now as I did when I started my training. Nursing has shaped my life.' But when Clay was just 37 years old he was diagnosed as having emphysema, a chronic and debilitating lung condition. He was forced to retire early from the RCN, in September 1989. He said recently that it was one of the hardest decisions he had ever had to take. 'Inside I felt I could go on for ever, I had given the job my heart and soul for as long as I physically could. I realise now how tremendously lucky I am to have been part of it.' By the time he retired he was dependent on oxygen for 14 hours a day.

When he took over as General Secretary in 1982, he was thrust headlong into a long and bitter pay dispute with the government. At that time a staff nurse was paid between pounds 4,784 and pounds 5,833 per annum. He proved a tough negotiator and a very astute politician. His polished media style and reasoned arguments won him recognition and respect among MPs and the public alike. The outcome of the pay dispute was an improved pay offer and the establishment of an independent Pay Review Body for nurses.

In the course of his seven years in office Clay instigated the establishment of a special commission on nursing education which informed the wholesale reorganisation of nurse training; he negotiated a new clinical grading structure for nurses' pay and launched the first RCN national media advertisement campaign against the introduction in 1984 of general managers into the NHS under the Griffiths Report. At the time of his retirement in 1989 he campaigned just as vigorously against the present NHS reforms, which were then set out in a Government White Paper.

He was widely known internationally and actively involved in the International Council of Nurses of which he was First Vice-President until last year. The plight of nurses worldwide was something he spoke and wrote about many times. He used conference platforms and articles to press home to British nurses how much better they fared compared to their colleagues in other countries who were victims of oppressive regimes and who were imprisoned and tortured. In the years following his retirement he devoted his energies to helping others who shared his debilitating lung condition. In April 1991 he launched a new consumer group called Breathe Easy under the auspices of the British Lung Foundation.

When I interviewed him two years ago he said: 'Life's too short not to take the opportunities it offers.' There weren't many opportunities that Trevor Clay missed - but there was so much more that he wanted to give.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine