Spotlight On Marianne Sunter, a former chemistry teacher who ‘reacts’ brilliantly when we need her precious time.Published on: 10/05/2019
Wirral Hospice St John’s has a bank of volunteers who make themselves available to cover holidays and the ill health of other volunteers. They are, by definition, dependable people. Marianne Sunter is one such valiant volunteer.
She gives us her valuable time on main reception when called upon. Her ability to organise and prioritise, not surprising for a former deputy head teacher, is clear. The fact that she’s also very friendly and welcoming brings a mix of skills that are perfect for directing people to our patients and staff at Wirral Hospice St John’s.
Marianne was born and brought up in Wirral. She attended St Laurence’s Primary School in Birkenhead ( which merged into St Werburgh’s in 2010) and then attained the qualifications which took her to the Holt Hill Convent school, the sister school of Upton Hall School FCJ (where Marianne actually spent the first five years of her teaching career).
Loving learning and challenging herself at school, Marianne achieved her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award and was further inspired to choose a career in teaching after gaining her degree in Chemistry at the University of Liverpool.
In all, she spent 38 years in teaching. Her career flourished at Box Hill School in Surrey where she was for 33 years, rising to become its deputy head teacher for the latter 15 of them. Not surprisingly, “I tend to throw myself into every challenge”, Marianne also ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at Box Hill.
In her role, she’s been in private audience with Prince Philip himself and has also met Princes Andrew and Edward, and also Princess Anne. She is happy to advocate and uphold the values of the school she spent so long at, international understanding, democracy, a care for the world around us, a sense of adventure, and the qualities of leadership and service.
In 1992 Marianne met the love of her life, and future husband, Jim. Jim had already enjoyed a career working in air freight which had taken him around the world. He was, literally, a ‘high-flying’ executive!
At the time, and still maybe, it was a natural move to retire from a fast moving and successful career in one industry to takeover the management of a country pub and hotel. The Running Horses, on London Road in Surrey, is just such a place! It’s also right over the road from Box Hill School and fate brought Jim and Marianne together.
It’s fair to say that the pub wasn’t all Jim had envisaged and just two years later he was working at Box Hill, initially as a groundsman but, like Marianne, was happy to go above and beyond. (Here they are pictured together). In his 16 years at Box Hill he grew their thousands of bedding plants every year, managed several allotments, looked after all the school buses and coordinated the transport for all outside activities. He also found time to make and paint scenery for school plays and run the bars for parents’ events.
Jim developed Kidney problems at around sixty two years of age. From 2011 he was receiving dialysis at home under the care of their local NHS (and his personal ‘nurse’, Marianne). By 2015, Jim’s kidneys were failing and he was finally admitted to the Renal Unit at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton. The decision was taken to stop his dialysis and to live out his days as comfortably and happy as possible.
It was Jim’s palliative care consultant, Dr Swift, “Swift by name, swift by nature” Marianne says, who, at the right time, arranged for the transfer to St Catherine’s Hospice in Sussex.
Marianne remembers, “From the moment he arrived at the hospice he was quickly free from pain and felt very peaceful. I was struck by how attentive the hospice staff and volunteers were. Jim’s full name was William James Sunter and at hospital people would refer to him as William. From the moment we arrived, the staff at St Catherine’s Hospice knew him, like he was known by everyone, as Jim! Just like at Wirral Hospice St John’s, people were friendly, empathetic, compassionate but, somehow, just ‘normal’, fun even… at the right time! Human, I suppose.”
Marianne and stepdaughter, Joanne, were holding hands with Jim when he died on 15th May, 2015.
Marianne had retired to be with Jim and has now re-settled in Wirral. She is a massive advocate of hospice care and takes a keen interest reading the history of the hospice movement and its ethos. She has great admiration for the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in establishing hospice care and shows me an excerpt from an account of her life (by Jennifer Worth of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) and matches it to her own experience;
The primary objective of a hospice is to show that death does not need to be a time of suffering but a time to achieve fulfilment. It encompasses the quiet unsung lives of ordinary people. People who have lived simply in a small circle, doing their best and achieving great things, in small ways. My husband (Jim) was such a person. His life was not spectacular but he was a good man and one of the wisest people I have known. He died quietly and peacefully as he had lived with his daughter and I on either side holding his hands. This is life coming full circle.
Both Jim and Marianne were held in such high esteem at Box Hill that there is now an annual award in their name and Jim’s memory, ‘The Sunter Award.’ This goes to the student who has gone above and beyond the normal course of study every year. (Marianne is pictured here presenting the first award to a young man, Josh Barnett, who she says is always a great ambassador for the school).
Nowadays Marianne is in close touch with stepdaughter Joanne, married to Mark, with granddaughters Georgina 21 and Phoebe 16. They experienced their own sadness in losing a little boy Owen after 5 days who is still remembered by all the family. There’s also stepson, Mike, married to Emma with five-year-old, Leo.
Marianne has two brothers. Eldest, Gerry, who lives in Prenton, is married to Barbara. Their son, Matthew has Marianne’s great-niece, Alice and great nephew, Sam. Gerry and Barbara’s daughter, Claire, lives in Wirral with husband Dave and have more great-nephews for Marianne, Adam 10 and Luke 6.
Her other brother Philip, married to Helen, lives in New Zealand and their daughter Alexandra is married and lives in Missouri.
She also has an Aunt, Catherine known as Carrie, who will receive a telegram from The Queen for her 100th birthday in July this year.
As well as making her contribution to the hospice, Marianne adds her considerable experience in education as the chair of governors of St Oswald’s Primary School in Mollington, Chester.
To relax, Marianne is part of a quiz team called The Soapsuds (they’re based at Port Sunlight’s Lever Club). They are in Division One of the Wirral Quiz League and regularly compete in cup matches organised by the larger Merseyside Quiz Leagues.
What I had to find out from somebody else (not mentioning anyone, but Carole Snow is our volunteer services manager!) is that Marianne also took part in the ITV quiz show, The Chase, hosted by Bradley Walsh. For aficionados, she and another lady, Mia, reached the last two to face The Vixen in the final chase. See the action on You Tube by clicking here.
So, with piles of energy, commitment, knowledge and enthusiasm we’re looking forward to seeing Marianne here at the hospice for a lot of years ahead. In fact, I think we can safely say, where Marianne is concerned, you can take that to the bank!
Author: Billy Howard
Banner Photo courtesy of Hal Gatewood on Unsplash.