Pioneering hospice founder Hilary Soares dies age 70
Agape House founder Hilary Soares has died at the age of 70, after spending the past few weeks at the hospice she set up to allow others to live their last days with dignity.
Mother-of-four Mrs Soares, a British nurse who moved to Bermuda in 1963, was diagnosed a year ago with the autoimmune disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and died on Friday.
Her daughter Nicola said: “It’s a disease that does not hit very many people. It’s a little bit on the rare side. It’s a very fast-paced disease, a very difficult disease. “The last three weeks of her life were spent at the Agape House Hospice, which is incredibly ironic, because that’s the hospice she founded. Many of the staff that my mom had hired and worked with were there.”
She said her mother lost the power of speech towards the end of her life and communicated using a typing device. The family is donating the device and her mobile chair to the hospice.
“I asked my mom ‘Are you resentful of what has happened to you, in terms of the disease that was diagnosed?’ She looked at me and [using the device] she said to me ‘Things in life don’t happen to you, they happen for you’.
“She said ‘There is God in everything we do and there is universal design’ and I think that’s really fantastic. She never once complained about her illness. She was always more concerned about others.”
Mrs Soares was born Hilary Laver in India in October 1940, when her father was in the British Army.
She told rg magazine in 1994 that she wanted to be a doctor but had to settle for becoming a nurse due to the limited career options for women in the 1950s.
She studied nursing at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and went to Canada after qualifying but decided she’d prefer a warmer climate, arriving in Bermuda on June 1, 1963.
She married Earl Soares, then chief immigration officer at the airport, in 1965 and the couple had Nicola, 42, Jonathan, 41, and Alison, 37, as well as a son, Marc, who died as a baby.
Mr Soares, 74, said yesterday of his late wife: “She was my best friend.”
Mrs Soares worked for a doctor for three years and nursed in the psychiatric ward at St Brendan’s but told rg magazine her life lacked meaning after the death of her son until she began working as Oncology Services Coordinator at King Edward VII Memorial, dealing with cancer patients and their families.
She was involved in helping set up the Patients Assistance League and Service (PALS) for cancer sufferers in 1979 and researched hospices, visiting two in the UK with a view to establishing the Island’s first such facility.
She began fundraising and Agape House was founded in the early 1990s, a 12-bed facility in a refurbished 18th century building.
Mrs Soares became its coordinator and Nicola recalls her “compassionate” mother’s commitment to providing the best quality care to the terminally ill, including those with Aids.
“I can remember, as a teenager, coming into the hospice, when they had first set it up. There was a set of fine bone china and I said ‘why in the world would you have something like that in here?’.
“She looked at me, grabbed me by the arm and said ‘Everybody deserves to die with dignity. Why wouldn’t we serve them afternoon tea on the very best china?’.”
Nicola described her mother as a feminist and said she blazed a trail for other women working in healthcare.
“There are so few people who really leave a long lasting legacy and contribution and she’s one of those individuals for the Bermudian community,” she added.
“I think the legacy of the hospital and PALS and everything that she put in place has served very many Bermudians and their families. As her eldest daughter, I’m incredibly proud of that.”
Mrs Soares was awarded the MBE for her services in palliative care in the community and was named Bermuda’s 1993 Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s Association.
She also received Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellowship Award and the Lioness International Melvyn Jones Fellowship Award.
She ran as a United Bermuda Party candidate for Devonshire North Central in the 2003 general election, losing out to the PLP’s Glenn Blakeney by 105 votes.
Mrs Soares suffered a number of strokes and cofounded the Bermuda Family Stroke Association with Mark Selley. She retired after her last stroke in 2004, later becoming a certified hypnotherapist.
She leaves behind her husband, three surviving children and grandchildren Ethan, six, and Olivia, two.
A memorial service will take place at 2pm on Wednesday at St Anthony’s Church and those attending are encouraged to wear “very colourful clothes” for a celebration of her life.
Useful websites: www.agapehouse.bm, www.pals.bm.