The founding members and the origins of Leukaemia Care

Our golden anniversary is the perfect time to reflect back and remember the various ways patients, volunteers and committee members have helped over the years to make Leukaemia Care the organisation it is today.

In today’s ThrowbackThursday it seems only right to start by thanking the founding members who had the foresight to realise just how much support patients and families need after receiving what is such an unsettling diagnosis. Of course, we must also remember their beloved children whose brave battles sparked the beginnings of Leukaemia Care.

Royal Marsden Hospital in 1935

“Nearly all charities at the time, certainly for blood cancers were invested in raising funds for research, but there was nothing to provide care for families that desperately needed it” – Peter Ives, first Honorary secretary

The conversation that prompted the beginnings of Leukaemia Care took place between two sets of parents by the names of Mr and Mrs Norris and Mr and Mrs Brown, who first met in 1967 at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London when visiting their respective children who were both being treated for leukaemia. With emotional support lacking for patients, let alone parents, the couples were quick to express their mutual feelings of isolation to each other, which are so often attached to a blood cancer diagnosis.

Bill Norris was employed for the Telegraph as a journalist at the time and so took the opportunity to write an article about the glaring lack of care and support provided to parents of children who had been diagnosed with leukaemia. He proposed to start a group to bring about emotional care.

It was with Bill Norris’s plea for help that the founding members were first contacted, some of whom had children with leukaemia and others that had already lost their child through the disease. The inaugural meeting was arranged to take place in the kitchen belonging to Mr and Mrs Brown in Holland Park, London, 1967.

Here the founding member came to a unanimous decision that the aim of the charity would be “to help other parents of leukaemic children in every possible way”. In addition to friendship and an understanding ear, it was first agreed to provide a number of specific services such as baby minding, help with transport or hospital visiting. However, it was quickly agreed that the principal needs of the parents appealing for help was to support them by providing information about the disease and reassurance that they did not stand alone. It is comforting to know that 50 years on, this original aim and belief of the charity still holds true.

Leukaemia Care first began as a support system solely for the parents of children with leukaemia, but it quickly went on to expand during the 1970s to care for adult patients. This was mainly due to a giant improvement in the medical treatment during the 60’s for childhood leukaemias.

Reflecting on the charity, Bill Norris gave these words, when speaking to Barbara Warburton (Fundraising co-ordinator) in 1992; “I guess I would not be human if I did not feel a sense of pride that this all began with one small idea, and the burning of a lot of midnight oil in a tiny room at the back of my garage.”

When asked if starting the charity was the best thing he ever did, he said: “I don’t know, I do know that many men plant acorns but very few have the privilege and joy of returning to see them grown into mighty oaks”

“It has taken me a long time to come to terms with those dark days of 1967. Now that I see what they produced for the common good, I think the ghost has finally been laid to rest. Thank you, thank you all. Thank you so much.”

We at Leukaemia Care and I’m sure all those who have been helped through the charity would like to give our heartfelt thanks to Mr Norris and the other founding members for the compassion in setting up the charity fifty years ago.

This wonderful little poem written by a member of the Leukaemia Care society in 1979 perfectly encapsulates the feelings of isolation that come with a diagnosis of a loved one. The same feelings prompted the charities existence and everything it stands for today, whereby sharing experiences with somebody can make a world of difference.



How clearly I remember how it felt when we were told

Our son had got Leukaemia (He was only four years old).

I thought that we were on our own,

This pain we had to bear,

And then I saw this little girl,

Who hadn’t any hair.

I soon found out to my surprise that she was like my son,

And as they lay there side by side,

Their friendship had begun.

They made me feel so humble,

As I watched them as they slept,

I felt the tears run down my cheek,

I stood and quietly wept.

But soon I find I’m not alone, A stranger’s standing there,

This stranger seemed to understand,

She even seemed to care.

She is the mother of the girl,

Who’s lying near my son,

She knows the feelings in my heart,

The fight he’s just begun.

Now looking back upon that night,

So many years ago,

She didn’t know how much she’d helped.

This girl I did not know.


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