Thirty-three years ago today, The Prince and Princess of Wales officially opened a new £2 million extension at St. Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds. Specialising in the relief of cancer patients, St. Gemma’s is the largest hospice in Yorkshire.
They arrived via rail into Leeds. They were welcomed by the Lord Lieutenant of Leeds, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Leeds.
Arriving in the Royal Limousine at the Hospice, The Prince and Prince were welcomed by Sister Mary Sloan, the Matron, civic dignitaries, clergy, Friends of the Hospice and the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. Princess Diana was presented with a bouquet of flowers by little Claire Spence.
Still only 20 at the time the time and six months pregnant, Diana appeared nervous and uncertain as she started the engagement.
The Prince gave a speech and spoke of the Hospice’s trials in raising funds for the addition and of the great compassion he felt for the patients and the work of the hospice. He joked about how difficult it was to locate the hospice by car. The Bishop of Leeds also spoke, welcomed them to St. Gemma’s and offered a prayer.
They were then accompanied by Sister Mary, Dr Bruce Symonds, Professor Richards and Canon Lyons to see patients on each ward and also in the Day Hospice. Every patient was greeted. Diana received several gifts including a white newborn baby jacket, a matching maternity bed jacket and red & blue baby bottle covers.
Edwin Wilson, above, beat the press when the Princess told him that her baby was due on July 1st, her birthday. He stated that he “couldn’t believe his ears” and was “pleased as punch” to hear the news. A truly magic moment for Edwin.
On 10 June 1980, Prince Charles’ second cousin, Princess Alexandra, laid the foundation stone for the new wing watched by Sr Cecily Mary, Sr Olivia, Sr Wilfreda and Sr Seraphine.
Opened in 1978, St Gemma’s is the largest hospice in Yorkshire and one of the largest in England. A school of the same name had been on the site since 1949 and was run by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. They decided to close the school in the 1970’s and converted it to a community hospice in 1977 upon hearing the need for such comprehensive care locally on a Radio 4 Programme at the time.
Since the school had been called St Gemma’s it was decided to keep this name as it seemed a proper name for the new work of a hospice. On 12 March 1978 the new 9-bed unit was dedicated and opened its doors to the first patients a month later on 12 April.
1982 saw further expansion in bedspace when a new building was formally opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 30 March 1982.
Princess Diana returned on September 12, 1991 to open the newly built Prout Conference Centre.
In 1982, Princess Diana mingled with patients as did Prince Charles, and they chatted with them at their bedside.
The Prince of Wales also unveiled a new plaque after he spoke and they both signed the visitor’s book of St. Gemma’s as well as the local civic register book, witnessed by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Patrick Cotty.
They signed a photo of themselves which was promptly put on display for all to see and which was later hung over the official opening plaque. They were eventually applauded by all present in the Norfolk Room.
They left the building with the Reverend Mother Wilfreda leading the way.
Outside a large group of children had assembled and as they left the hospice, the Princess was engulfed with children offering her bouquets of flowers.
The Princess was soon overwhelmed with flowers and she even passed on a large panda bear to one of her staff to handle. The staff lined up along the path outside St. Gemma’s at the end of the visit to say good-bye.
The Prince and Princess of Wales were then driven to Roundhay Park so Charles could leave for York to tour the Jovik Viking Museum associated with the then Coppergate Dig at the University of York.
Diana was surrounded by crowds and received several baby gifts once again.
The Princess returned to London via rail. At the Leeds train station, she was again swamped with flower bouquets from well-wishers as she proceeded to the train. Her staff were trying to collect all of them before they departed.
There was a note of sadness, however, that hung over the day. Patient Mary Lees, who wrote a poem called, “Be Still” for Their Royal Highnesses and with whom the Princess chatted for a bit at her bedside, died within hours of the visit.
It was, however, a day etched in the memory of all those present.
Fashion note: Diana wore an emerald green wool maternity coat with velvet abstract appliqué designs by Bellville Sassoon. Her matching boater style hat with velvet bow at back was by John Boyd. Her burgundy leather low heeled shoes with matching clutch were by Alexander Gabbay of Ivory.