Richard Miller – “A Godsend to the people of Herefordshire”

One of the founding members of St Michael’s Hospice has been described as “a Godsend to the people of Herefordshire” following his death, aged 85.

Dr Richard Miller saw his dream of bringing hospice care to Herefordshire realised in 1984 when St Michael’s in Bartestree opened its doors. The former Hereford GP had himself been receiving care from St Michael’s in the past year or so, and he died at his Hampton Bishop home on Tuesday, with family beside him.

Last year, Richard had described the care he was receiving from St Michael’s as “exceeding even my wildest expectations”. Today, Richard’s legacy lives on with St Michael’s recently announcing it was providing more care for more people than ever before, both at the Hospice and in patients’ own homes through the Hospice at Home service.

“It’s almost impossible to put into words the lasting impact of Richard’s dedication to palliative and end-of-life care across Herefordshire,” said St Michael’s Hospice Chief Executive, Mike Keel. “In the last 40 years, thousands of families have felt the warmth and love that underpins St Michael’s Hospice care. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the vision and determination of Richard and his fellow founders.”

Alongside Dr Jeff Kramer and the late Freda Pearce, Richard oversaw the opening of St Michael’s in 1984, and welcomed Princess Alexandra to the Bartestree venue for the official unveiling the following year.

His interest in end-of-life care started when he was a medical student, a role which enabled him to meet several relatively young patients who had not long to live.
Later, as a GP at Moorfield House Surgery in Hereford, Richard cared for a friend with advanced cancer and became acutely aware of the devastating impact this disease had on the patient and his young family. Richard soon became inspired by a trip to St Barnabas Hospice in Worthing, West Sussex, and sought to improve his knowledge on end-of-life care by spending much of his annual leave at hospices around the UK.

But it was in July 1979 when plans for a Hospice in Herefordshire gathered pace.
Richard met Freda Pearce who had just led a successful appeal to raise £90,000 for a body scanner to go into the oncology unit at Cheltenham General Hospital, and was now planning to raise funds for a Hospice in Herefordshire. Fundraising appeals were soon launched, leading to the first sod being cut in 1983, and St Michael’s admitting its first patient the following year.

Richard retired from General Practice in 1994, but continued as a St Michael’s Hospice Trustee for a further two decades. In 2018, in recognition of Richard’s incredible contribution to life at St Michael’s, he was made a Life Patron of the Hospice and remains one of only three people to have received the honour.

Over the course of the last year or so, Richard had begun writing a history of St Michael’s. In it, he mentioned the care he was receiving. “The standard (of care) exceeded even my wildest expectations, with each member of the team showing infinite empathy and kindness, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” he wrote. “Without exception, they are a very special group of people; it was particularly heart-warming to be told a number of times how much they loved working at St Michael’s. Although inevitably there is sadness, I was frequently reminded how much joy there is in the Hospice.”

Mr Keel says St Michael’s will honour Richard permanently, with more details to be announced in due course. “We all owe Richard a huge debt of gratitude and extend our warmest sympathies to his family,” he added. “Quite simply, Richard was a Godsend to the people of Herefordshire, and we will all ensure his legacy lives on at St Michael’s Hospice. I know he held everyone here in the highest regard, and I can guarantee you that feeling was mutual. When we talk about Hospice care, we often describe it as compassionate and full of love. I think it’s also a perfect description of Richard. We’ll miss him so very much.”