Harry (“Dolly”) Gray senior, died at Rowans Hospice on the 17 April 2020 at the grand age of 92, eleven days following his admission. A Royal Marine during WW2 and later the Queens’ Mounted Drummer in the Royal Horse Guards, Dolly maintained a military pride in his appearance throughout his civilian life, always well turned out and complete with manicured moustache. Dolly knew he was dying and his choice and preference was to die at Rowans Hospice, relieving his wife and family from caring for him in their Southsea home.
During the time Dolly was at the Hospice, we got to know his son, Harry, an artist and sculptor, who sat by his bedside for many an hour during those final days of his father’s life. Harry had also been hospitalised after fracturing his leg and it was during his confinement, coinciding with the first wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic, that Harry bore witness to the anxiety, stress and enormity of work experienced by NHS staff at that time.
Mindful of his father’s military and decorated career, the concept of a medal for those caring for the sick came to mind, and the COVID Star Medal was conceived. It was then, whilst sitting by Dolly’s bedside, the design took shape; with inspiration from his father and Rowans’ nurses, with regard to the size and fastening, the drawings were complete and, in the summer of 2020, Harry showed the first prototype medal to the Rowans’ nurses previously involved.
“It was the perfect mixture of professionalism and good humour of the staff that meant my father was not only made comfortable but also had some laughter when he was at the Rowans. It is hard to put into words how special the staff are at the Hospice so I hope the little COVID Star Medal will express my gratitude instead.”
Now, a year after Dolly’s death, Harry has received his first order for the COVID Star from an NHS Trust and Rowans Hospice Charity will also be recognising front-line care staff who have supported people like Dolly and his family throughout the Pandemic with a medal.
Harry senior was nick-named “Dolly” whilst in the Army, as was tradition and derived from a British Music Hall classic written during the Spanish – American war in 1900 and adopted as a marching song and Boer War Anthem. The song was entitled, “Goodbye Dolly Gray” and how fitting this now seems as we remember Dolly and his incredible legacy in inspiring his son’s creation of the COVID Star Medal.
On Sunday, 24 October 2021 120 members of staff and volunteers were invited to the Rowans Living Well Centre where a celebration was held. The prestigious medals were presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson Esq, who spoke of his honour at being able to present the awards. He said “It’s a huge honour. One of my keys is to recognise those who have given exceptional service to the county. What you have done is exceptional service – you have done amazingly well.”
Dr John Watkins, Chairman of the trustees said: “Some Hospices had to close during the pandemic whilst ours not only increased its activity but actually flourished – with these achievements we should be justifiably very proud. The awards are to recognise the special staff and volunteers who were unable to work from home and went quietly about their work, accepting the hardship and the potential risk to themselves and their families. This award is a public recognition of that selfless professionalism.”
Volunteer Jan Staunton said: “It is a fantastic award. You don’t do it for the recognition – to help others is a lovely feeling.” Hospice at Home team member Maxine Durrant said “I am very proud of the award. We have an amazing team and have the best job in the world.”