Joan Hunt OBE Obituary: Pioneer of palliative care in Spain and founder of Cudeca, the country’s first hospice

Marisa Martín Roselló, CEO and Medical Director, Cudeca, pays tribute to Joan Hunt OBE, a British woman whose compassion and determination inspired the local community in her ‘adopted’ country to establish Spain’s first hospice. Joan Hunt died at the age of 92 on 24 June 2021 in the hospice she founded.

The founder of Cudeca, Mrs Joan Hunt OBE (right), with Dr Marisa Martín Roselló, CEO and Medical Director.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but in one way Joan Hunt made things easier for us through the legacy she left us: Cudeca, Spain’s only hospice to date, which currently cares for 1,500 people every year, offering patients and their families what Joan always called “A special kind of caring”.

Joan was a visionary. She had retired with her husband to the Costa del Sol in southern Spain and a few years later, in 1991, Fred died of cancer in Malaga. He was admitted towards the end of his life to a newly created palliative care ward in the Red Cross hospital, but Joan saw that the end-of-life care facilities in general were far from ideal. Instead of sinking into a quiet widowhood, she determined to build a hospice. Against all the odds, with only a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish and few contacts to call on, she started fundraising and building up a team of professionals to visit cancer patients in their homes. In 2003, the day care centre at the beautiful hospice in Benalmádena, opened just as she had envisioned it, with an in-patient unit following in 2005, and to date there are seven Cudeca home care teams.

Her previous experience was undoubtedly an asset. From an underprivileged childhood including long periods in hospital, she had gone to work as an office tea-maker, rising to become Personnel Manager in a multinational company with thousands of workers at a time when few British women held executive positions. Intelligent, hard-working and compassionate, she knew the importance of surrounding herself with others who shared her high values and standards.

In the beautiful grounds of the hospice: Joan is pictured with Susan Hannam, Vice-President of Cudeca, (right) and Marisa Martín Roselló.

Joan exemplified the power of will, setting a constant example of social, ethical and intellectual commitment. She believed absolutely in the power of the collective, of the community.  Through her warm personality and her own strength of conviction she inspired hundreds of volunteers. She built bridges throughout society: to ordinary citizens, to public and private institutions. She demonstrated with deeds what it means to trust others, to believe in people and to make them responsible for the care of their most fragile members. All this in order to achieve a fairer society committed to end-of-life care.

She was not satisfied to bring the vision only to her part of southern Spain: she lived to see Malaga University offer courses in palliative care under the auspices of Cudeca, and the first stone laid in the hospice’s grounds for what will soon open as the ‘Yusuf Hamied Training and Research Centre in Palliative Care’.

Joan was selfless, and only ever wanted to be in the limelight if it would help her project. At the end of her life, it was typical of her that she left notes for those closest to her asking that rather than flowers mourners should send donations to Cudeca “to provide care, support and company for those who need us most”. She also wrote:

“Take care of Cudeca. I have faith in you: ensure that my legacy goes on giving life to the days of patients and their families.”

Only those who feel the value of life are capable of dedicating it to caring for the lives of others. And Joan’s vision come to reality is itself a beautiful tribute to life. Cudeca today is bereft, but there is no doubt: Joan Hunt’s legacy will live on.

Editor’s note: This post is among the Top Twenty most-viewed posts for 2021.

Links and further reading

EXPLORE NEW DIMENSIONS at #EAPC2021. The 17th EAPC World Congress Online offers interactive online sessions from 6 to 8 October 2021, including an entire day dedicated to Paediatric Palliative Care. And you will be able to enjoy lots of on-demand content before and after the congress dates. Get some sneak peeks of congress events on the EAPC blog.

  • Register for the congress here. (Up to 25% discount for EAPC members)
  • Enter the International Photo Competition here.
  • Enter the Science Slam here.
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