Obituary: ‘Having her as a mother was like winning the lottery’
PUBLISHED: 19:00 09 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:56 10 September 2019
Tributes to devoted Suffolk hospital nurse once called the ‘hardest-working woman in the UK’ and ‘one of life’s angels’
Propelled by a powerful desire to care for people, Hazel Turbervill always wanted to be a nurse - and enjoyed a career lasting nearly 40 years. But it wasn't until she came to Suffolk that she finally found a hospital where she would settle.
It happened after husband Gordon became head of foreign languages at the middle school in Halesworth. His wife joined the staff of the town's Patrick Stead Hospital - initially as a "bank nurse", providing cover when needed, and then training as the sister.
Later, in the absence of a matron, Hazel ended up in charge of the nursing care - a responsibility she bore until taking early retirement in the late 1990s.
"It was a lovely hospital; cottage hospital in style," says son Huw. "Beautiful grounds. It was close to home - she cycled to work. A small staff; cosy feel. She felt very much at home there.
"There was a lovely annual fete - they had (ex-Blue Peter presenter) Peter Purves and Bill Treacher (Arthur from EastEnders) opening it.
"Mum was sad it has closed in recent years. The absence of such 'convalescence hospitals' is terrible for patients."
Dr Bill Pagan says: "In the days when we general practitioners were in charge of the medical care of all the patients in the hospital, Hazel was highly respected and admired by everyone for her compassion and nursing skill which she demonstrated to all those under her care, always with a smile and a sense of humour.
"We could rely totally on her opinion at all times when we needed her help and advice. Her calmness when there were emergency situations was also reassuring to us and to all concerned.
"She also had the knack of relating well to both doctors and the hospital staff. We were very lucky indeed to have such a team of people, mainly living locally and working together within the hospital for the benefit of the community − the team being led and supported by Hazel."
She was part of the "wonderful line of nursing sisters who believed in the hands-on approach to nursing care, using her skills and experience to the benefit of all patients with whom she came in contact.
"She was sadly missed when she retired and she will be remembered with great affection by everyone who knew her and worked with her over the years that she worked at the hospital."
Hazel had made her mark not just in the way she cared for the people who came through the doors of the old hospital during her 21 years there. An accomplished tennis player from a young age, she enjoyed playing the sport during her time in Halesworth. Badminton, too.
"Retiring at 55 was a mistake in hindsight," says Huw. "Her job had given her so much fulfilment. She lost a sense of purpose, and she should have lined up a part-time role.
"Ill-health followed, but once she was finally treated she showed tremendous stoicism and bravery, despite being blind. Never once did she complain."
What had happened? "I am afraid Mum did not pay enough attention to the onset of diabetes. They say nurses make the worst patients. If something good can come out of this…"
Her advice would be: don't put things off - if there is something wrong, seek treatment.
Hazel was 75 when she died. Her funeral is at 2pm on September 19, at St Mary's Church, Halesworth.
"Her legacy is that she touched those she met - and cared for - with huge amounts of love and warmth. As a family friend said: 'She was one of life's angels'."
A born nurse
Hazel Elizabeth Kingsbury was born on September 6, 1943. She was incredibly close to her mother and father, growing up in a warm and caring household in Haywards Heath, Sussex. She'd always have a huge passion for family, says Huw.
"She said she was not especially happy at school - Lourdes Convent, Withdean, just outside Brighton. Her teachers, who were all nuns, were strict, but she did form a deep friendship with Anna (Canning) that lasted until her death about five years ago. They had fun going to school on the train.
"They went on holidays around Europe, including Lourdes and the Vatican (Anna was Catholic). Mum also went on childhood holidays with the family of Sussex and England cricketer Jim Parks Jnr.
"Anna was a lovely, genial lady, so it was sad when she emigrated to Canada."
Hazel enjoyed stoolball at school, but wished they'd played cricket!
Her career was a true passion. "She always wanted to be a nurse. She just wanted to care for people. She took enormous pride in her work, and rightly so. She was a strong yet very kind colleague."
Those decades of caring began at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex - as a pre-student nurse from 1959 to 1961.
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"She made a lovely, lifelong friend there in Terri Dawson. They wore pink uniforms - the 'Pinkies' were a lively presence in the town," says Huw.
Hazel then moved to Chichester (there until 1965), before returning to East Grinstead for a year, to work in plastic surgery. "She found it rewarding helping burns victims, under the tutelage of the renowned Kiwi, Archibald McKindoe."
"Generally, I think people do move about at the start of their career to gain experience. But she did get lonely at Chichester, as her friend moved away"Working at East Grinstead allowed her to live with her parents and drive to work each day. 'I had enough of the bedsit at Chichester and wanted a change,' she said."
There were short stays at Ashford Hospital in Kent; Hurstwood Park Hospital (now the Princess Royal, Haywards Heath); and the Wilson Hospital, Mitcham. After that came a couple of enjoyable years at St George's, Tooting.
Those later moves were made to fit in with husband Gordon, "who was roving about with the Intelligence Corps and the Metropolitan Police".
How did they meet? As a staff sergeant in the Intelligence Corps, Gordon's job "was to check on the bachelor boys in his unit at a party with the nurses at East Grinstead, at their social club. Their parties - the Pinkies - were famous in the town!" says Huw.
"I listened to a tape of Mum at the weekend. She said 'It was there I met my Welshman. I fell in love with him and his mind!'"
They married in October, 1966, in St Wilfred's Church, Haywards Heath, with the reception at Gatwick Airport and a honeymoon in Majorca.
Hazel had Huw in 1972 and did not go back to work until 1977. By that time Gordon had trained to be a teacher. They moved to Suffolk in 1976, living at Holton and then moving into Halesworth in the mid-1980s. Gordon had his middle school post and his wife found her niche at the Patrick Stead.
"She adored working with the doctors," says Huw. "Dr Pagan was a true gentleman. Clarke had an anarchic sense of humour. Mair: such charm. And Dixon: the eccentric gent."
Hazel lost mother Peggy relatively young - in the late 1970s, when Hazel was in her mid-30s - but loved it when her father, Ted, came to live with the family in the 1980s. "He was the kindest of men," says Huw.
Hazel thus became head of a house full of "her boys" - husband "Gor-Gor" (who survives her), her father and Huw. And, for good measure, cocker spaniel Whisky.
"A family friend labelled her the 'hardest-working woman in the UK', as she was also a full-time nursing sister. But she was never happier."
Pillar of the family
Hazel was a loving and devoted wife to Gordon, helping him greatly as he grappled with the stresses of teaching. "Later, when she was ailing, Dad became a tower of strength for her. Opposites attract. They loved each other a great deal," says their son.
Huw counts himself incredibly fortunate that he had Hazel as a mother. "She was, quite simply, kind and loving. She had a complete absence of malice, deviousness or manipulativeness."
Hazel never missed one of the cricket, football, hockey or rugby matches he played in. Huw also remembers numerous walks and bike rides to see the pigs and collect conkers, and hours of boardgames, word-games and tennis matches.
"Having her as a mother was like winning the lottery. She always seemed to find the right words to comfort and reassure."
Hazel found delight in grandchildren Grace, Ben and Polly. "She had much fun with a determined Grace when she was a toddler. She was thrilled at Grace's success at school, academically and in drama.
"She loved looking after Ben at Center Parcs for a week when he was a baby, and took delight that he became a goalkeeper, like her father and son. She loved Polly, thinking always how jolly she was. She loved all three visiting her, and speaking to them on the phone."
This sporting life
Sport was another cornerstone of Hazel's life. She played a lot, up until she was 55. Winning the ladies' tennis title at Lindfield, in Sussex, was a highlight. Hazel kept fit playing badminton and cycling. She adored dogs, and loved walking Whisky.
Huw became a sports journalist, working at the East Anglian Daily Times and then on the national scene. Today, he's managing editor of The Cricketer magazine.
His mother followed the sport, accompanying Huw to a day's play at The Oval Test each year. Imagine their thrill when they bumped into former England and Essex captain Graham Gooch on the beach at Southwold during one of her last trips out. "He was lovely to Mum."
Another favourite memory concerns an afternoon at Woodbridge School. The opposition failed to show, and so a lads and parents pairs contest was held. To the hilarity of all, Hazel outscored partner Johnny Parnell about 15-5 in their four overs.
Her father loved horse racing, and Hazel listened to it most days in later life. She also enjoyed reading, and listening to the radio and wonderful RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) tapes.
Let's give the last words to a friend, a relative, and a former colleague who knew her in the rewarding-but-challenging setting of the hospital.
"I had the honour of working with Hazel for her entire time at the Patrick Stead," says Jane Alexander. "I always remember her as being extremely kind, conscientious, and carrying out her duties with a gentle touch and sense of humour."
Derek Hammond is a cousin of Hazel's mother, and lives in Perth, Australia. He says: "Hazel was never self-seeking. She was fully committed to the care of others. Simply a beautiful person who, in my mind, personifies the best of English people."
Friend Yvonne Cutts, from Halesworth, said: "I could confide in Hazel and know with certainty that she would never tell a soul: a true loyal friend. I never heard her say a bad word about anybody, and treasured her friendship."
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