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Ellen Douglas (1934-2022): Tireless advocate for the mentally challenged

A champion for Bermuda’s intellectually disabled helped found a home for people with mental challenges to live with dignity.

Ellen Douglas, who opened Hope Homes in 1982, also volunteered for the homeless in Bermuda.

The education therapist was recognised in 2012 with a community service award after 50 years of giving to others.

A life of volunteering started with Ms Douglas working at what was then known as St Brendan’s Hospital in Devonshire.

She spent 20 years working for the Department of Health before joining the launch of Hope Homes, which often struggled to make ends meet.

During her work as an assistant nurse in St Brendan’s, she became particularly concerned with adolescent boys dealing with mental disabilities, and pushed to introduce day trips and educational programmes.

She studied at the National Association for Mental Health in Britain and earned a degree in vocational rehabilitation at Loretto Heights College in Colorado.

Ms Douglas held a teacher's training degree in special education, and studied psychology, sociology and counselling at the University of Maryland.

Ms Douglas told The Royal Gazette in 1991 that she was undaunted by the financial burden, calling the work “tough but rewarding”.

“I've worked with some of these people for over 30 years and I'm not going to desert them.”

During her work at the island’s mental hospital, Ms Douglas became convinced that a residence was a better place for people with intellectual challenges.

Charities such as the Committee of 25 and donors across the island rallied to the cause.

Hope Homes, which opened on Cedar Avenue in Hamilton, sheltered residents and provided day programmes, offering self-help and vocational skills.

It was operated by the Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Bermuda and run by a board, with Ms Douglas as executive director.

The charity’s president in the 1990s, Richard Phillips, said the home gave people “the chance to regain their dignity”.

Ms Douglas viewed her work as a spiritual calling.

“I think I was called by the Lord to do what I have to do,” she said in 1993. “I feel if I don't do it, the penalty of guilt will be too great for me. These people are very special and what I like about them is that their motives are pure.

“Personally, I don't see a person with a mental handicap. In many instances that handicap is probably a blessing in disguise.”

Ms Douglas died last month in Spokane in Washington State.

She was predeceased by her husband, Ivan, and son, Anthony, and survived by her daughter, Mable Dunbar, as well as siblings Esther Rose, Samuel Lynch and Victoria Lynch.

· Ellen Elizabeth Douglas, founder of the charity Hope Homes, was born on September 1, 1934. She died on June 3, aged 87.

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Published July 04, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated July 04, 2022 at 7:44 am)

Ellen Douglas (1934-2022): Tireless advocate for the mentally challenged

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