Celebrating the centenary of Cicely Saunders

Published on: Author: David Clark Leave a comment
Dame Cicely Saunders (courtesy of Christopher Saunders’)

In 2018 we are celebrating the centenary of the birth of Cicely Saunders. She is the acknowledged founder of the modern hospice movement which led to the creation of the palliative care specialty. So we can expect to see a wide range of events and activities to mark the occasion, not only in her own country, but all around the world. In particular keep an eye on the website of the Cicely Saunders Institute and ehospice for details of some of the celebratory offerings.

For my own part it feels like it will be a momentous year, which will be the culmination of over 20 years of endeavour.

In 1995 I started working with Cicely on a programme of activity that focussed on the initial cataloguing of some of her papers. Together with my colleague Neil Small, we also set about recording a long series of interviews with Cicely  to capture the story of her life, works and beliefs. In due course I began to write and edit a series of articles and books that focussed on her special contribution to the evolution of hospice and palliative care. When Cicely died in 2005, I had a mass of material and her endorsement with which to set about writing a new biography.  It has taken until now for the work to be completed.

I have just concluded  the copy editing queries on the manuscript of Cicely Saunders: A Life and Legacy.  Working with a great team of people in the New York office of Oxford University Press , the ‘production process’ for the book is so far going smoothly and briskly to schedule. I can expect to receive the proofs in a few weeks. The book, complete with dust jacket and a stunning and not often seen portrait of Cicely on the cover,  should be on sale by the early summer.

Two decades in gestation and two years in the writing, my magnum opus is almost complete. So what else is to do?

Daily tweets

To mark the significance of the year, I have started posting a daily tweet about Cicely, which can be followed from my Twitter account @Dumfriesshire and using the hashtag #CSCentenary.

Twitter is proving a great medium to share insights about Cicely with people around the world. a few days ago I watched with pleasure as retweets from Kenya further extended the range of a quote from Cicely’s first ever publication from 1958:

It was also interesting when an American response said:

In this way we can build on Cicely’s legacy to explore how the discourse of hospice and palliative care is changing, and where it might be leading.

So do start following the tweets – and please join in with comments and reflections from whatever perspective.


I am also looking forward very much to being in public conversation with others about the new biography. I already have appearances lined up for the following: Boswell Book Festival  (6 May 2018) Hay Festival (1 June) and Wigtown Book Festival (September  – the date is still to be confirmed, but follow me on Twitter for updates).

Doubtless too, I will also be addressing aspects of the life and works of Cicely Saunders in presentations for the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome (28 February 2018) and at the International Congress on Palliative Care in Montreal (2 October)

Several other meetings are in the  works where I will be touching on the biography – in Cardiff, Newcastle, Copenhagen, and Edinburgh. And of course there will be things happening within my home region of Dumfries and Galloway through activities of the End of life Studies Group based at the Dumfries Campus of University of Glasgow.

Book launch

I was honoured and delighted when the two Chief Executives of St Christopher’s Hospice reached out to me to suggest that the new biography of Cicely could be launched at the hospice she founded, on the exact 100th anniversary of her birth.  So preparations are now underway for the event, to take place in Sydenham in the afternoon of 22 June 2018.  It is going be a very special celebration.

Cicely Saunders’ centenary year gives us much to celebrate. It is also an opportunity for thinking deeply about her life and works, for advocacy, for public debate and for reflection. No doubt the global hospice and palliative care community will rise to the occasion, with events and contributions of many kinds. So do put a big circle around that special date in your calendar – 22 June 2018 –  and maybe even plan something of your own to mark this very special year.

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