26 years of love for Mildmay
Sharon first started at Mildmay in 1993 as a temporary secretary working for the chaplains, but after walking in and seeing the hospital for the very first time, she knew immediately she “wanted to stay, and it has been 26 years since that moment”.
Sharon worked five months for the chaplains and because at that time there was no effective treatment for AIDS, there were regular patient deaths. Sharon remembers this time as “upsetting” and “the downside of the job was that after getting to know the patients you would hear about some of them passing away”.
Mildmay would hold memorial services every three months to remember “up to fifty people that had passed away” which was clearly a great number for staff to have to deal with emotionally.
Whilst working for the chaplains, Sharon also details how Mildmay had its very own choir. The choir included a mixture of staff such as nurses, doctors, cleaners, and even the CEO at times. The chaplains led the services and “the atmosphere was lovely”. From time to time staff would be encouraged to take part in readings for the services. It is during this time that Sharon performed her first ever public speaking, standing in front of people at Mildmay. This experience was “nerve-wracking but enjoyable nonetheless”.
After completing five months with the chaplains, the Family Services Manager asked Sharon if she would consider a permanent position. Despite being offered a few days to think about the offer, Sharon immediately said yes.
Whilst working as a PA for the Family Services Manager, Sharon enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Princess Diana, who came to inaugurate the new Family Care Centre.
Princess Diana had named the building ‘Spencer House’ in memory of her father. “During the visit, she took time to meet all of the patients and even play with the children. She also spent time talking to staff over a cup of tea”.
This is when Sharon got the chance to have a chat with Princess Diana. Sharon asked Diana how her two boys were doing, since they were about the same age as her son. To Sharon’s amusement, Princess Diana talked about how she had received a phone call the previous evening from their school detailing how the boys were in trouble after been found on the school roof being mischievous. Sharon says this is one of her most memorable highlights.
Sharon feels proud to state that her “family have also been part of Mildmay from the very beginning”. When the Care Centre was opening her husband and children would volunteer at the hospital on the weekends. “They would support in building the furniture, putting all the beds in the rooms, hanging curtains and general help around the hospital. Mildmay’s family-oriented culture meant there was a lot of staff with families all coming together to work for a common goal” of getting the Centre ready to open on time.
The family-oriented culture was emphasised further by then CEO Ruth Simms filming the team at work and Medical Director Veronica Moss offering everyone flapjacks while they were working.
A particularly fond memory that stands out for Sharon during the past 26 years is the time she met Prince Harry in 2015. Harry was aware that someone working at the hospital had previously met his mother, and Sharon spoke about how she and Princess Diana had shared a story about him. “Prince Harry implied that he might have been the instigator for the cause of the story, as he always was the mischievous one”. After Harry’s visit, the BBC and ITV interviewed Sharon to talk about her links to Diana and chat with Harry, which then resulted in global media coverage. One of Sharon’s friends had even seen her on the TV all the way over in New Zealand!
Fiona Phillips from GMTV was also amongst the celebrities who made time to come and see the patients. After seeing how committed and passionate Sharon was regarding her work, Fiona, to Sharon’s surprise, nominated her for the Daily Mirror’s ‘Woman of The Year’ Award. “I’m not used to things happening for me, so when the Daily Mirror sent the Publicity Officer to have my pictures taken I just couldn’t believe it”. Even though Sharon did not win the award, she appreciates Fiona’s recognition greatly.
Sharon’s job has changed a good deal over the years and most recently she worked as PA to the Medical Director, Dr Simon Rackstraw. Alongside this she also worked as Pathway Co-ordinator for the Admissions Department and oversaw the medical student placements from medical schools in London as well as from overseas.
One thing that has surprised Sharon about Mildmay is “how many changes the hospital has gone through over the years, whilst keeping the family-oriented culture alive. Mildmay have good staff who work well together and have a shared love for the hospital”.
Many of Sharon’s colleagues have been with Mildmay for over 20 years, which, she believes, is due to “something very special about Mildmay that we all come together for”. Sharon proudly shares her love for Mildmay and hopes that “it carries on for a lot longer. I think there are people out there that see the good of it and will support it and continue to support it”.
Sharon wishes that there were not so much stigma about HIV and AIDS. She believes the message around HIV should get more mainstream coverage throughout the year and not just around World Aids Day. Sharon remembers instances in the 1990s where “there was a lot of abuse towards some of the patients and children would shout over the wall and throw bricks at windows”. Sharon therefore believes it is vital we “educate and talk about the subject in schools” to help combat stigma.
Mildmay has around 40 regular volunteers that come into the hospital each month. Sharon encourages anyone who is looking to work or volunteer at Mildmay and would want it known that “there is a good team of staff working together and everyone is looking out for one another.”
Having worked so many years Sharon has also had to overcome some challenges along the way. Recently she had to undertake online training that consisted of eighteen different subjects. “At my age I keep thinking I am too old for this, and I keep hiding behind that I’m too old, that I don’t know how to do this”. Some of the modules required clinical knowledge and although Sharon is not a trained medical secretary, she has been able to “pick up a lot of medical terminology from all the dictations for Dr. Rackstraw over the years”. Sharon stayed determined, “It does not matter how many attempts I’m going to have of this, I’m going to do it!” To Sharon’s delight, she successfully completed the online training, “I am happy with myself, I am patting myself on the back for that one”.
When speaking about retirement, Sharon says, “It’s going to be a very sad day for me, really sad. I should retire but I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet”. One of the main reasons for not yet retiring is the enjoyment she still gets out of coming to work every day. There is something about Mildmay that she loves and finds difficult to put into words.
Sharon quotes an extra line in her job description that reads ‘Any other duty deemed necessary’ and she has certainly fulfilled this part of her job over the years. This has included looking after the Psychiatrists baby and one of the doctor’s dogs at different times whilst they were on the wards, working in the Mildmay nursery, helping with the patients’ gardening group, and even driving the Mildmay minibus!
Sharon finally retired in early 2020.