Those who knew Maggie Jencks talk of her many talents and her zest for life. After a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the landscape designer and writer put her considerable abilities into making her remaining life as positive as possible for all those around her. That included planning a centre where cancer patients could retreat after the numbing shock of diagnosis to find information, a hot drink or just a quiet space. Writing of her own experience, she yearned for "an old-fashioned ladies' room . . . with a proper door which supplies privacy for crying". It is a simple, even obvious, need, but one too often unavailable in busy hospitals.
The first Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996. It was based on the blueprint she drew up, which included the idea that it should be a model for other centres at other hospitals, run as autonomous adjuncts to the NHS. Twelve years later, that vision has been more than realised as cancer patients, their families and close friends, and medical staff have come to appreciate the enormous benefits of this simplest of ideas. As The Herald Friends of Maggie's campaign, launched in March in celebration of this newspaper's 225th anniversary, has discovered and demonstrated, this small charity touches a chord with people from all walks of life. What the Friends have in common is a commitment to make life as good as possible for cancer patients. Their enthusiasm and hard work has brought generous donations, secured pledges of continuing contributions and brought about a new awareness of the centres, altogether worth around £700,000 to the charity. Drawing in high-profile individuals, from broadcaster Kirsty Wark to footballer Christian Dailly, as well as readers who have become Friends of Maggie's by signing up to regular donations or organising fundraising events, the campaign has reflected the fact that cancer knows no boundaries and that the readership of The Herald reflects the nation as a whole.
The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who is to design the newest Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow, is the latest in a series of celebrated architects, including Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, who have gladly accepted a challenging commission to put skills often used in landmark buildings to design one that is inspirational while strictly domestic in scale. All distinctive, the centres bring together the welcome you would find in a friend's kitchen with the uplifting sense generated by good architecture. Rem Koolhaas says his centre will have a holistic feel. It will be one more embodiment of Maggie Jencks's vision and its continuing inspiration.
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