Joan Hunt, in 2011.
Joan Hunt, in 2011. / SUR

Joan Hunt OBE, founder of Cudeca, dies aged 92

  • The British woman was a pioneer in bringing palliative care to southern Spain

Joan Hunt OBE, founder and honorary president of cancer hospice foundation Cudeca, has died aged 92.

The pioneer in bringing palliative care to patients in the final stages of a terminal illness has passed away at the organisation's hospice in Benalmádena.

Joan is known across the province of Malaga and beyond as a hardworking, selfless woman who broke down barriers - from language to bureaucracy - to give the area something it needed: a palliative care centre to help patients of terminal illnesses in the final days of their lives.

Her eternal smile, always accompanied by a sunflower, is recognised throughout the Costa del Sol and beyond. But it was the determination behind that smile, fuelled by her own personal tragedy, that has over the years helped thousands of patients and their families throughout Malaga province.

Joan’s husband Fred died of cancer just a few years after the couple retired to the Costa del Sol in 1984. It was that experience that made her aware of the need for palliative care in the area and ignited her unwavering resolve to fill that gap.

“[Fred’s illness] 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,” wrote Cudeca’s medical director, Dr Marisa Martín, in a tribute to Joan to mark her 90th birthday two years ago.

Joan was born on 5 January 1929 in Liverpool, the eighth of nine siblings. A childhood illness that left her with a limp for life and the death of her mother when she was just 16, marked her early years.

By then, though, Joan was already on course for her successful career in business after her mother had paid for private secretarial classes when she was 14.

Those skills, plus her own personal efficiency and determination, took her up the professional ladder, until by 1974 she was head of personnel for a multinational firm with 14,000 employees.

So, after Fred’s death, Joan dusted off those organisational skills and set about achieving what most would have deemed impossible.

She found valuable help from like-minded people, however, in the form of Marisa Martín, the doctor who had helped to care for Joan’s husband when he was ill with cancer; and current Cudeca president Ricardo Urdiales, a lawyer who was Joan and Fred’s neighbour.

Cudeca (which stands for Cuidados del Cáncer - Cancer Care) was legally established as a charity in 1992 and began by providing care and support for the terminally ill and their families in their own homes.

Joan’s dream of setting up a hospice came closer when the day care centre in Arroyo de la Miel opened in 2001, and was fully realised in 2005 when the in-patient unit was opened.

One of the secrets of the success of Cudeca was Joan’s ability to unite the Spanish and international community on the Costa del Sol. Without the support of the foreign community, the very British model of a hospice funded by charity shops and fundraising events would not have survived.

Joan received numerous awards over the years. Among them were the 1st Annual Award from SUR in English (1996), European Woman of the Year Award (1997), the OBE presented to her by the UK’s Prince Charles (2002), the Málaga Woman of the Year Award in 2005 given by the Recreational and Cultural Association (ARC) El Portón, the Professional Achievement Award 2005 by the Spanish Federation of Women Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs (FEDEPE), the Award “Huella Social” by the Rotary Club of Malaga in 2011, and the Premio del Día de Andalucía from the Junta de Andalucía in 2015.

In 2013 Benalmádena town hall named the roundabout next to the hospice after Joan. The mayor, Paloma García Gálvez, spoke of the town’s “gratitude to and admiration for” Joan Hunt and said that “the president of Cudeca is a role model and a great example of dedication, generosity and humility.”

Joan officially retired as president of Cudeca in 2014, handing over the reins to Ricardo Urdiales, and took on the title of honorary president. Her presence at the hospice, however, continued to brighten the lives of patients, staff and volunteers