Members’ obituaries

Judith Veronica Withers (nee Charles) 1947 – 2020

Judy Withers aged 72, peacefully passed away in Sobell House Hospice, Oxford, on the 4th of June 2020 the day before her 73rd birthday.

Judy was born and raised in St John on the beautiful island of Antigua; one of several children, and grew up in a large extended family. She was educated in Christ the King school, and Antigua Girls High school, leaving with 2 A level GCE’s. Throughout her life Judy maintained regular contact, visits and support for her Caribbean family, being closest to her full sisters Muff and Cutie, their families, and ‘Tanti Grace’ in New York who survived the World Trade Centre tragedy. She was on her way to work there when the planes struck.

Judy left Antigua in 1967 to pursue a nursing career in the UK. She often joked about how surprised the Oxford interview panel appeared when a tall black lady with an English sounding name presented for interview! She was probably the first black nursing student in Oxford in the 1960’s, qualifying in 1970. Of course she later became the first black Matron in Oxford.

Judy and Simon had been pen-pals for a year or so before she arrived in Oxford, and they were subsequently engaged, then married, in June 1971 in St Aloysius Church in Oxford. They then left for Kumasi, Ghana for a ten year period with Simon’s work. During this time she worked as an Industrial nurse and taught the final year nursing students at Maase Offinso Hospital. In 1974 Judy set up a clinic/dispensary at a girls boarding school where she eventually had proper premises, a budget, and even the staff came to her for treatment!

While in Ghana Judy returned to Antigua and nursed her grandmother through her final days, returning to the UK in 1981 with Simon and their adopted daughter Simone.

In 1982, moving permanently near to Oxford, Judy quickly got a post at the Radcliffe Infirmary, spending the remaining 26 years of her nursing career working in the specialist field of Neurosciences in Oxford. The posts she held included a period as the Plasma Exchange Nurse, Clinical Practice Development, Ward Sister and later Matron. She remained settled in Oxfordshire for the rest of her life.

The practical ward based training she received never left her, and she was renowned for rolling her sleeves up as a Sister, and later Matron. Through hard work and determination Judy completed a BSc and Masters whilst working full time, which later enabled her to develop and support degree educated students and newly qualified nurses. She was the Vice President of the Radcliffe Guild of Nurses for several years and cared passionately about her nursing team, regularly reuniting the Radcliffe Infirmary ‘family’ at social events, the last one in October 2016.

Judy worked her way up the nursing career ladder from staff nurse to Neuroscience Matron. Throughout her career, she always had a passion for supporting, developing and leading others. Judy would never accept sub-standard patient care on her wards and she achieved the highest patient care standards through educating and supporting staff. If any team member was struggling and needed additional support she would be there for them. Staff trusted Judy, as she role-modelled compassionate, person-centred care by demonstrating what was required. She had that exceptional skill of being able to call out poor practice whilst constructively teaching others to improve patient care across all our neurosciences wards. Judy would never leave a shift without checking that every staff member was happy and knew what they were doing; a true role model and inspirational leader to others. Judy’s colleagues remember how caring she was: how she went out of her way to help them, whatever level they were; how she was always ready to’ put an apron on’, working on the ward to support staff who were struggling; how she was always offering words of encouragement to build staff confidence; and, most of all, her beautiful smile that conveyed the warmth she radiated to everyone who knew her. Judy positively shaped the careers of 100s of nursing students and staff in neurosciences who benefited from her wisdom and kindness.

From 2005 to 2009 Judith brought her talents to BANN as a committee member. She was a much admired and respected colleague who brought her quiet thoughts and observations to many a discussion. She was extremely supportive to all the committee members with the work that needed to be done and joined in all the social events with zeal!

After retirement Judy continued to give of herself freely to others, working as a bereavement counsellor with Cruise in Oxford, where she was of course very highly thought of. She was indeed a fantastically supportive colleague and a great friend.

Rest in Peace Judy, you are truly unique and will never be forgotten.

Phyllis Holt (Born 19 July 1947 Died 10 June 2014)

It is with sadness that we have been informed of Phyllis Holt’s death in June this year. As a founder member of BANN & EANN I know she worked tirelessly to promote neurosciences. Although I didn’t know her personally (I was very junior and she was one of the committee members) her presence was always felt. Here follows an obituary and tributes from some of her many colleagues and friends.

Anne Preece

President BANN

Phyllis Holt was born in Bolton, Lancashire in NW England and was always proud of being a Lancashire lass. She had a happy childhood and, like her mother before her, decided to become a nurse. She trained in Bolton but later developed her interest in neuroscience nursing

She went to the Maudsley hospital in London and by the early Seventies had become clinical nurse manager of the unit there. During her time as nurse manager she became a founder member of the British Society of Neurosurgical Nurses and its executive, which later became the BANN. In 1975 she became secretary of the steering committee developing the European Association of Neuroscience Nurses and was elected its first Honorary Secretary (1979-1987). She also held office in the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses.

Phyllis was a dedicated professional neuroscience nurse who wanted to promote the highest standards of nursing care for her patients and valued the opinion of those with similar aims throughout the world. She was not someone who sought the professional limelight she was a catalyst who used her excellent communication skills to network behind the scenes and diffuse difficult diplomatic situations.  She encouraged others to give of their best.

She remained at the Maudsley until the unit was transferred to Kings College Hospital. Phyllis understood the transfer but was deeply hurt by the disrespectful and callous way it was carried out. At the age of 49 she found herself redundant.  She set about making a new life for herself. She ran a nursing agency but when arthritis started to make mobility painful she gave up nursing for voluntary work and became a Samaritan.

Phyllis was a very sociable person. Her currency was a chuckle, a smile and a hug. She loved the performing arts both as a participant and as a member of the audience. She had a fine soprano voice and sang in a local choir and as a soloist in the local amateur operatic and dramatic society. When she could no longer perform, she made costumes for their shows and made an unforgettable costume for the dame in Cinderella in the shape of a wedding cake.

Phyllis was a keen traveller and enjoyed cruises. She travelled all over the world and loved to meet people of other nations and engage with their ideas, beliefs and cultures.   

Phyllis Holt was a dedicated nurse, a loyal and compassionate friend and colleague. She will be greatly missed.

Chris Eberhardie, Former Committee member WFNN & EANN

Phyllis Holt: Tributes from the International Neuroscience Nursing Community

 ‘I did not know her very well, but I know she did a great job for EANN and WFNN.

Please send my sincere condolences to her family & friends

Met vriendelijke groeten,

Winny Depaepe, EANN Treasurer, Belgium

‘I was so saddened to hear of her death. I have very fond memories of Phyllis. She was extremely professional and articulate. Underneath that serious persona was a person of great fun. I know how busy we all are, and losing touch is inevitable, but somehow I thought I might have had a reunion with Phyllis, however this was not meant to be.

 One of her many strong points was mingling in a crowd, and making people feel welcome.

Derek McNeil

Former BANN representative on EANN Executive committee

Dear Phyllis
In the 1970s, I was privileged to be a part of the team, focused on establishing a European Association of Neuroscience Nurses ( the then title ).I remember well how you guided us through the labyrinth of rules and regulations, until we reached our goal in Paris, in 1977. At a later executive committee meeting in London, during my brief absence at lunch time, you were party to a scheme that voted me into the arduous role of secretary of the EANN. I was overwhelmed at the time, but this opportunity evolved into a rewarding and exciting challenge.
Phyllis, I thank you.
Dianne Yasargil ( EANN Chairman 1987-91)

‘Very sad news indeed but in fact reading it made me smile too as it brought back memories of times with Phyllis. Meetings which started off serious but disintegrated into hysterical laughter, her dedication and strive to put Neuro nursing to the fore and also her support to me as a junior newbee in the field of Neuro and in the Society. 
I didn’t realise at first how senior some of you guys were when I was a mere staff nurse! 
Sudden is horrible for family and friends but in some ways feels not a bad way to go!’

Kate McArdle

Former BANN representative EANN and WFNN

‘The message regarding the loss of our respected colleague, Phyllis Holt, was forwarded to me. I’m so sorry to hear of her death. While I did not know her well, she clearly made significant contributions to the promotion of neuroscience nursing within the European community and worldwide. Please accept my condolences on behalf of the WFNN. The WFNN would be interested in looking for ways that we might honour her. If you compose something regarding her contribution, we are willing to work with you to ensure that her memory and legacy of promoting our specialty is not forgotten. 
Our thoughts and prayers are with you and her family,’ 
Christi DeLemos, MS, ACNP-c 
President of the World Federation of Neuroscience Nursing.

‘I knew Phyllis for many years and, as with many people I met in the BANN, I
considered her a friend and remember her with affection as well as respect
for her professionalism. It would be fitting to honour her in some way.’

Lesley Pemberton

Former BANN Vice President

While writing my reflections of Phyllis, I was reminded of the movie “Waking Ned Devine”.  There’s a eulogy where people are reminded that the words spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead.  And so to Chris and others in this email chain I’ve been blessed to know, I applaud you as a nurse, but more importantly as a friend. In closing, I’ll borrow from the end of the “Waking Ned Devine” eulogy:

“If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”


Virginia Prendergast

Former President WFNN