Hospice friend Gwen Watterson inspires her whole family to support us in memory of her daughter, Denise

Published on: 27/03/2024

Whenever Gwen Watterson comes in to visit the fundraising team at Wirral Hospice St John’s she’s just like part of the family.

She’s our nan, mum, sister and favourite auntie, all rolled into one.

Always with a smile on her face, Gwen greets us like old friends, “Hello Sweetheart, how’re you today?” before telling us all about her day.

Denise, Luke and Jamie-Leigh* and seated are Gwen and son-in-Law, Jeff

She’s also real-life nan to hospice fundraising manager, Jamie-Leigh*, and alongside Gwen’s large family, they are massive contributors to, and supporters of, all the hospice does.

We asked Gwen if she’d share a little bit about her life and to outline why the hospice means so much to her whole family.

Christened Gwendoline Price she first lived in Rockville Street, Rock Ferry, until age 6 and the growing family, Gwen is the fourth eldest of TEN brothers and sisters, necessitated a move to a bigger house on Old Chester Road.

Mum was Margaret and had a lot on her plate with ten children and Dad, George, worked at Cammell Lairds as a shipbuilding supervisor. It was a busy but happy childhood and Gwen reels off her brothers and sisters names in order, Georgie, Margie, Johnny, (Gwen), Alan, Keith, Julie, Philip, Paul and Jeanette, known as Shanny.

Gwen left school at 15 and worked various jobs before spending 8 years at the old Viota Foods factory in Bromborough. Her friend, Jenny Jones, asked her to go on a blind date with her boyfriend’s mate and that’s how Gwen met the love of her life, Dave Watterson.

Dave’s retired now, having been at Vauxhall Motors all his working life, and enjoys holidays and days out with Gwen and the family. He loves a little bet and one of their favourite days out is Chester Races every year.

There’s a beam in her eye when describing Dave and all the medals he got as an amateur footballer (they’re still there and we think it’s more Gwen than Dave who hangs onto them!).

They were married at Birkenhead registry in 1968 and first–born daughter, Denise, was soon followed by Michelle and David. Many happy years followed.

Denise married Jeff, (Jamie-Leigh and her brother Luke’s mum and dad), Michelle married Stuart and brought Rebecca and Matthew into the world and David married Natalie who have sons Connor and Sam.

Gwen, Michelle, Dave, David Jnr and Denise

However, in 2010, the events that would begin to build their commitment to the hospice overtook the family.

Gwen and Denise

The family, Denise, Jeff, Jamie-Leigh and Luke had been living in New Zealand for 5 years when Denise visited a doctor to complain about a persistent cough. After tests Denise, who Gwen calls Dinny, was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

It was a devastating blow for all the family and their friends. They returned home to Wirral to continue Denise’s care and support here and to be closer to the family.

She spent time in what is now called our Wellbeing Centre, taking part in activities and learning strategies to live as well as possible with her illness.

In December 2011, Denise was admitted onto our inpatients ward.

Gwen remembers the time very clearly,

“The hospice was absolutely brilliant. Sometimes Dinny would have 10 or more visitors and we were all made to feel welcome and really well looked after. We could not have asked for better care for Dinny nothing was ever too much for the staff or the volunteers.”

Sadly, Denise passed away on 17th December, 2011.

Gwen receiving her Thank You flowers from Jamie-Leigh

In 2012 the family resolved to hold an event in Denise’s memory and to use the special occasion to raise funds for the hospice. It was such a great evening that it has now become an annual event held at Bromborough Social Club. It’s something the large family and their large network of friends look forward to and work really hard to organise.

This year, on Friday 8th March, around 150 people gathered once more at Bromborough for the festivities.

Gwen gets loads of support from her friends in all the shops, restaurants and other businesses in Bromborough and even further afield. She makes sure the prize donations for the raffle come in by the bucket load and Gwen gets everywhere by Bus! She says Jamie-Leigh is her “absolute rock!” and the focus on the annual fundraiser “keeps her going.”

Over the years now the evenings have raised well over £30,000 for the hospice. It is a magnificent amount and a massive tribute.

We often see Gwen helping out at hospice events. She was also one of the most impressive participants in recent years when she literally walked over hot coals for the hospice when we hosted a fearsome and fierce FireWalk.

Gwen is 73 now but she still loves work. As a care assistant for Wirral Age UK, working between Bromborough and Claughton she really helps to make even more difference by supporting people with dementia. It is easy to imagine Gwen brightening up those people’s days, every day.

She certainly brightens up ours, like only a very special family member can.

Gwen, Thank You for everything you have done, and still do, for Wirral Hospice St John’s.