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Obituary: Rene Boyd OBE

Margaret Bamford pays tribute to her friend and colleague, Rene Boyd OBE who was an active BASW Northern Ireland member:

Rene BoydRene Boyd, who died on 24th October, was a leading figure in Northern Ireland in the field of health, disability and social care and was greatly respected throughout the Province.

Graduating from Queen’s Rene qualified at the Institute of Almoners before being appointed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1950. She remained there until 1977 when she was appointed Principal Social Worker managing health and disability services across hospital/community/ health and social care. Notwithstanding the integrated structures in NI, the interfaces were just as challenging then as they are now. She was an active member of BASW and did much to promote high professional standards of practice. She was a powerful voice for true integration of health and social care. She was rock like in her belief in the importance of the ‘person and the family’ in the treatment of sickness, and support for people with disabilities. She was a formidable champion of promoting awareness and increasing available resources. Her deceptively gentle requests, the carefully argued, minutely detailed submissions, her authority and status were irresistible

The values of the Institute were Rene’s life blood. Medical social work was a ‘quality’ service. It needed the best of training, support and management. Rene was a mentor without compare. Her staff learned from her example and the value she invariably placed on their work. She made people feel good about themselves, encouraging them to greater achievement.  Poor practice was not tolerated. The ‘Royal’ was the regional trauma centre for the Province. It dealt with the consequences of all major terrorist attacks and it was essential that social workers were guided wisely and judiciously through sometimes extremely delicate negotiations with families. The team needed a strong boss respected by clinicians.  “Miss Boyd” commanded that respect. Her views were sought and valued by the most senior of consultants. The reputation of the 47 - strong social work team was almost entirely her creation. Social work vacancies in the Royal were highly sought after.  For every job advertised up to 20 applications could be anticipated.

In the 80s, impatient that support for the establishment of a much needed Crossroads scheme in the Province was taking so long, Rene took the matter into her own hands and persuaded colleagues to form themselves into a governing committee.  So Crossroads was born in Belfast! She then went on to be one of the inaugural members of the planning group for the first hospice in Northern Ireland campaigning successfully for substantial Board funding. This was no considerable achievement – even in the less straightened financial climate of the time.  

But it wasn’t only for her professionalism that Miss Boyd was universally respected. She had a wicked sense of humour!  Her dry wit enhanced any social gathering. Her poetic creations could rival those of Pam Ayres, witty, funny, moving and clever. And her narratives were a joy. Perhaps her most lasting achievement though was ‘Fifty Years of Social Work in the Royal Victoria Hospital, written just before she retired in 1988. Seventy pages of carefully researched material from the hospital archives, beautifully written and compelling reading; a veritable treasure trove of wonderful quotes all set within the context of the health services as it was and the NHS it became.  It is a priceless legacy for medical social work. Although Rene died 25 years after she retired she is remembered still with affection and respect as a woman of great compassion and ability who leaves a proud legacy for medical social work.