Lisbeth Hockey

Nurse and researcher

Born: 17 October, 1918, in Austria

Died: 15 June, 2004, in Edinburgh, aged 85

WITH the death of Lisbeth Hockey, the nursing profession has lost one of its most distinguished personalities who was recognised internationally for her contribution to research and teaching in nursing.

From her childhood, Lisbeth was vocationally driven to become a doctor and had begun medical study at Graz University in Austria before the Nazi occupation. Politically unsympathetic to Hitler, her parents advised her to go to England in 1938 and, indeed, both parents were to perish later in concentration camps.

Speaking no English and with no contacts she was befriended by the Quakers, acting for a year as a governess to the Wedgwood family allowing her to learn sufficient English to start nursing training in London.

She gained qualifications in nursing, health visiting and midwifery, practising all three before being appointed to co-ordinate district nurse training in London by the Queen’s Institute. In her spare time she gained an honours degree in economics!

Lisbeth had an inquiring, penetrative and critical mind that was to torment her superiors from the outset of her nursing career, challenging any routine procedure that could not demonstrate its effectiveness in the care of patients, and it was logical that it was in teaching and research that she found her greatest fulfilment and for which she gained her recognition in Britain and internationally. In 1971 she was appointed director of the Nursing Research Unit in the University of Edinburgh, the first such unit to be established in a British university, and this was to be her base until her retirement in 1982. She gained a PhD in 1979 and the Queen’s Nursing Institute Gold Medal of Honour in 2000.

Lisbeth Hockey published five books and 35 research papers which she described as part of a continuum into the evolution of the study of improving communication as a fundamental nursing activity. The warmth of her concern for patients was transparent but her critical analysis of the care she herself received when in hospitals must have made her a formidable patient to a number of nursing units.

In recognition of her work promoting co-operation between general practice and nursing in the community, she was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1982 which gave her particular pleasure because of her early career intention to become a GP.

She was appointed OBE in 1979 and her many other honours included honorary degrees from the Universities of Alta (1980), Uppsala (1985) and Queen Margaret University College Edinburgh (1995).

Although frail in stature, Lisbeth received many invitations to lecture internationally in Europe, North America, Australia and China and in contradiction of her increasingly frail stature she continued to do so well into her retirement.

Agnostic until 1946, she was converted to Christianity following an episode in nursing, enabling her to come to terms with the horrors of her early life experience. In her retirement she endeared herself to her local community in Edinburgh (Cramond and Davidson’s Mains) for the warmth of the assistance she offered to young and old, helping to establish the Almond Mains Club for the isolated elderly - the activities of which she analysed with the same objectivity and frank criticism which she demonstrated to such effect throughout her professional career. She was held in enduring affection by students whom she continued to help in preparing for nursing degrees.

Living alone, Lisbeth was supported by many loyal neighbours and friends whom she entertained with generosity. Following a stroke she courageously defended her independence until she required admission to residential care where she was nursed with compassion and skill.

Lisbeth’s Iife story is a fascinating one, displaying courage, determination and important initiatives that will allow her to take her place as a pioneering figure in nursing.