Statement from Vice Chair Lisa Rodrigues CBE on Black Lives Matter

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Saying Goodbye to Mary

As I step down from the Mary Seacole Trust I reflect upon the last four years and the amazing people I have met and the work we have done.

My journey with the Mary Seacole Trust started in 2016 when I was working at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Here I learnt of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal (MSMSA) and their plans to unveil a statue in Mary Seacole’s honour in the grounds of St Thomas’ hospital. The statue was created by the amazing sculptor Martin Jennings and I was proud to be asked to support the unveiling ceremony. It was then that I met Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and we instantly became friends. Dame Elizabeth embodies the values of Mary Seacole: caring, authentic, compassionate and kind and I am glad that we get to celebrate her incredible contributions in life.

Immortalising Mary in the grounds of St Thomas’ hospital was a seminal moment for me. I was inspired by this woman of mixed heritage and how much she has overcome in the pursuit of giving care. While she was briefly celebrated in life she had practically faded into obscurity, so to be part of that momentous historic occasion was one of the proudest moments of my life. Mary’s legacy is embodied in that statue and she will continue to inspire many.

Dame Elizabeth introduced me to Trevor Sterling the chair of the newly formed Mary Seacole Trust, formed to promote Mary’s legacy. I became a Trustee of the new charity

and worked with the board to help shape the new Trust. Being a Trustee was more than a role, I became part of the Seacole family, a collection of impressive individuals who all demonstrated Mary’s values, and passionate about equality. We were all volunteers but it was not work, we had fun and it was a pleasure and collectively we were able to establish the new Trust.

I am proud of spending the last four years promoting Mary Seacole’s legacy and delivering on projects; like the permanent installation of the Mary Seacole exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum, the memorial plaque in memory of all those health professionals who lost their lives in conflict and war in the pursuit of giving care, unveiled in November 2017 in the memorial garden at St Thomas’ hospital.  I led on the diversity in leadership work which included the commissioning of a review, and developed, with Health Education England, the Nursing Times Mary Seacole Student Award for outstanding contribution to diversity and inclusion. My final project is in partnership with NHS England, in celebration of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. This is a fitting project to end my time as a Trustee as I step down.

Mary Seacole is an icon to me and her statue is a symbol of hope to many black and brown people as she strides towards parliament. If Mary were alive today I believe she would be standing shoulder to shoulder with nurses and midwives on the front line caring for the sick in this terrible pandemic. She too would be marching alongside us campaigning for equality and fairness. When I am long gone her statue will remain watching over and inspiring women and men alike, reminding us you don’t have to compromise on your values or who you are and that you can overcome to succeed in your own personal ambitions and aspirations.

This is not goodbye as I remain a loyal friend of Mary. Through her legacy I found a collection of special friends who reminded me of my own value and for that I will always be grateful. I wish my Seacole family luck as they continue their work.

From Karen Bonner, a friend of Mary

Introducing the Mary Seacole Book:

A STATUE FOR MARY: The Seacole Legacy
Edited by Lord Clive Soley and Jean Gray

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