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A portrait of Mrs Joan Hunt

This is the story of Joan, the child, student, daughter and wife; Joan the apprentice, worker and manager and lastly, Joan the businesswoman, directing the care enterprise that is the Cudeca Hospice.

Joan Hunt was born on 5 January, 1929, in Liverpool, the eighth daughter in a family of nine brothers and sisters, and today is the only surviving member. Her parents, working class and devout Catholics had come from Ireland.

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Young Joan would soon come to know how hard life can be. When she was two years old she became seriously ill and began the medical treatment that would be a prominent feature throughout her childhood. She had contracted severe septic arthritis and the infection attacked her hip. This meant that while still a small child she had to undergo several operations and long stretches in hospital until she was six, which left her with a limp for life.

In 1937 the family moved to the outskirts of London where there were more job opportunities for her father. When World War II broke out, Joan was only 10 and her mother decided to send her away from the city to be with her uncle, aunt and cousins in the country.

When she returned to London the war was still not over but Joan began her studies again. Her mother realised what a bright and clever child she was and despite a lack of means, found a way for her to study for a profession that would open doors, allow her to stand on her own feet and fend for herself. At the age of 14 her mother paid for private secretarial classes: she learned accounting, shorthand and typing and she was offered a job with a family leather business. Initially, she just made the tea and ran errands. She rose to shorthand-typist and finally to management, accounting and sales for the company.

When Joan was only 16 her mother died at the age of 54 and Joan had to take care of the family as well.

In spite of her hip problems Joan made every effort to overcome her limitations and live the life of a normal girl of her age and one day at a dance she met her future husband Fred. This was neither as easy or as happy a time as she would have liked. Her decision to marry an older divorced man caused a rift in relations with her family because of their deep Catholic beliefs.

She nevertheless did marry Fred and carried on with her working and social life in London until she was 32 when she decided that after 16 years with the same firm she had to move forward and put her skills and experience to better use.

That was how she went to work for the large multinational company Berger Paints. Her skills were recognised immediately and six months later she was already the managing director's personal assistant. Her commitment and efficiency helped her to progress in the company to such an extent that in 1974, in a world that still had little time for women in business, she was appointed head of personnel administration. She managed the administration and the payrolls for the company's eight factories in the UK that employed a total of 14,000 workers. Thus, Joan Hunt became one of the very few women of that time to occupy a post in senior management.

We know more about the rest of her life, about her early retirement spent on the Costa del Sol. And yet again, another setback. Her husband Fred died of cancer. But not even the illness that snatched him away from her could destroy her spirit. On the contrary, it awoke a positive, caring energy in her that became the driving force of something as wonderful as her vocation to help others at the end of their lives. Against all odds, at the age of 65, this Englishwoman who knew few people in Malaga, who did not speak the language and had few resources decided to create the incredible project called Cudeca.

A doctor who had looked after Fred says she will always remember the day Joan returned to the Red Cross hospital after Fred's death and announced that she was going to devote the rest her life to improving the care of terminally ill cancer patients and their families, and asked if she would help. She never had a moment's doubt. Joan inspires determination and the ability to accomplish ambitions.

Aided by her tenacity, passion and her wide experience in management, the Cudeca dream came true and has more than justified the efforts made over the last twenty-five years. Instead of enjoying her well-deserved retirement, she has lived a second working life, even more intense than the first, and, at 90, continues to do so.

Joan Hunt has been an example of triumph over adversity. She has always grasped life positively and has been able to make the most of all the opportunities presented in her life.

Joan is an example of will-power, the embodiment of social, moral and intellectual commitment. She believes firmly in the strength of the community and dedication to society. With her example, she has inspired hundreds of volunteers, built bridges between communities, with ordinary people, with public and private institutions, with sportsmen and women, with artists. Thanks to all this Cudeca exists, caring for, comforting and attending to the needs of more than 1,500 people in the last stages of their lives.

She has fought to achieve this with strength and dedication and has made this proverb her motto: Vision without action is just a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare. She has succeeded in linking both concepts, the vision of a centre where the hardest moment is made easier, and the capacity to act and make it real.

The present time needs people like Joan with her inspiration, courage, determination and enterprise.

She has shown us by her deeds what it means to think of other people, to invest effort in their dignity to finally achieve a fairer, happier and more just society.

The international community she serves is very proud of Joan. Only a person who appreciates the value of living can devote themselves to caring for others.

We will always be grateful for her generosity, her strength - and her smile.