The Queen’s New Year Honours List for 2015, announced at the end of December, revealed one name close to the hearts of many in Cayman. Dr. Virginia Hobday was named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services in establishing hospice care in the Cayman Islands.
The Order recognizes outstanding service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the civil service, and work with charitable and welfare organizations.
“I was completely taken aback but very honored and humbled by the award,” said Hobday. “I have been overwhelmed by the kind wishes of so many people. I really feel I am accepting this award for the HospiceCare team and board and our loyal volunteers, and I dedicate it to all the brave and inspiring hospice patients and their families that we have had the privilege of caring for.”
Hobday follows other family members in being recognized. Her father John, one of the first veterinarians to fly around southern Africa, received an OBE for his services during World War II. His uncle Sir Frederick Hobday was an eminent veterinarian, knighted for his services to animal welfare, his rebuilding of the Royal Veterinary College, and his services to equine veterinary medicine.
Hobday herself considered studying veterinary medicine, as well as archeology and anthropology, but decided, much to Cayman’s future benefit, that she was more suited to medicine. “I wanted to combine a career with people and science, and also wanted to help people and mankind in general,” she said.
The road to Cayman
Born in Zambia, Hobday grew up in Ethiopia. Her father had gone to the country in 1963 to help the government with its livestock disease eradication program and also looked after the emperor Haile Selassie’s extensive horse stables and lion collection. Her mother was a physician’s assistant to Selassie’s son, combining this role with raising children as well as being involved in charitable causes.
Hobday fondly remembers her early years in Ethiopia.
“It was an incredible place to grow up,” she said, “and is an amazing, beautiful country rich in culture and wedded to its Coptic Christian faith.”
Weekends were spent camping at the remote Rift Valley lakes. The wildlife and people of the country left an “indelible print” on her.
The family left Ethiopia in 1974 when the emperor was overthrown by a Marxist coup. “It was a very sudden and sad end to our life there and I longed to go back for many years after we left,” said Hobday.
Twelve years after qualifying in medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in London, and wanting to live in a warm climate with a multiracial and cultural society, similar to the one she had grown up in, Hobday came to Cayman to provide temporary services. This would later develop into a permanent stay.
“I felt an immediate bond to the people of Cayman as I worked in the district clinics,” she said. “My sense of adventure had taken me to many places in the world, but I felt I could put roots down here.”
And put down roots she did. Hobday is the medical adviser to the Cayman Islands Breast Cancer Foundation, serves on the executive committee of the Cayman Islands Medical and Dental Society and on the ethics committee at the Cayman Islands Hospital, is the medical director of Cayman HospiceCare, and she trains medical students.
It is a wonder that Hobday fits all of this in. A busy family life, with growing sons John-Ross and Harrison and their active sports lives, as well as a menagerie of animals, Hobday admits that sometimes she gets to work feeling like she has had a full day already. “I feel like I juggle a lot,” she said. Sundays are sacred, and the family tries to preserve them for sailing on their trimaran. “Being on these beautiful Cayman turquoise waters truly helps me to unwind.”
Hobday’s husband, Richard Clough, has been the pilot for the Mosquito Research and Control Unit for 25 years. “He is the anchor of our family. Without his support, which is unwavering, it would be impossible to maintain these varied responsibilities,” said Hobday. “My family is the foundation of my life. Despite living all over the world, the eight siblings are very close. My parents were a constant inspiration to me, and their unshakable faith and trust in me has motivated me all my life.”
Hobday was awarded her MBE for her work in hospice care. Her interest in palliative care began many years ago.
“I had always had an interest in cancer treatment and came to realize that patients who could not be cured did not always get the care they needed and deserved,” said Hobday. “When my mother got Hodgkin’s disease the month I qualified, she became a chemotherapy patient at St. Bartholomew’s where I was doing my first medical job. After her recovery, I was determined to pursue working in the field of cancer and palliative care.”
Hobday was also inspired by the life and work of Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of hospice care, on a visit to Saint Joseph’s Hospice in London. “When I was asked by Liz Walker, her god-daughter who lives in Cayman, to become a board member, I felt it was a way to combine the art and science of medicine.”
The importance of HospiceCare in Cayman is undeniable. Hobday says it has become the major healthcare provider for people with life-limiting illness who want to maximize their quality of life and be at home with their families.
“[The service] provides specialized medical and nursing care to anyone facing a life limiting illness for either symptom control or end of life care,” said Hobday. “The patients’ and the families’ concerns and wishes are paramount. They are in control of decision making and we guide them. We become their partners.”
Palliative care in the community has become more widely known in the 16 years since Hobday arrived, with public support also growing exponentially for the free emotional and physical support available 24 hours a day from a compassionate and experienced team. “It is a vital part of the care,” said Hobday. “It is, in my view, a fundamental requirement in any society that considers humanitarian needs as a priority.”
Soon the organization will benefit from a new facility built with money raised through the community, including largely the efforts of Derek Haines, who ran six marathons in 2014 to raise more than $1 million for the project.
“The efforts of Derek Haines … are awe-inspiring,” said Hobday. “The community has truly got behind him, and that is a measure of the understanding of what hospice means to them and the trust it places in us.”
HospiceCare, meanwhile, continues to partner with those who need its services. “Our profile will become more public, but we will continue to do our work unobtrusively and quietly,” said Hobday. “However, we need everyone to know what HospiceCare does so we can make sure no person needing the service is missed out.”
Hobday’s work understandably makes her family proud.
“It has been such a privilege to hear the wonderful stories about how ‘Dr. Ginny’ has helped many people of the island in their darkest hours, helping her patients and their families navigate the end of life firsthand. Not many doctors are equipped for this type of work, so it takes a unique individual with compassion and a great team to accomplish this,” says her sister Fiona, who now also lives in Cayman.
Hobday, sadly, also has personal experience with life limiting illness as her brother Rocky passed away in October last year.
“The bull always looks very different when you, yourself, are in the ring,” she said. “Facing a terminal disease in my own close family circle was a profoundly life-changing experience on many levels. My palliative care knowledge did h
elp me to care for my much-loved younger brother, but it was a deeply painful yet precious and meaningful time.
“To watch such a young and vibrant person who so loved life and was so loved by his family and many friends deteriorate from the strong and athletic man that he was, was devastating. His wish to die at his home, with his loved ones, was achieved through hospice care in Florida. It has given me profound insight into the dilemmas and fears facing patients and their families, and has convinced me even more how essential hospice care really is.”
Cayman HospiceCare is hosting its annual fundraising Flag Day weekend Feb. 27-28. HospiceCare volunteers blanket Grand Cayman at strategic, high traffic locations, encouraging passersby to make a donation. Funds raised help HospiceCare continue to offer free end of life palliative care. To volunteer, or make a donation, call 946-2183.