Tribute to John Champion 1946 - 2019

Given by Martin Wood at John's memorial service on 15th August 2019

Good afternoon. I am Martin Wood and I am here representing the Six Counties Kidney Patients Association. It has been my pleasure and privilege to have worked with John in the SCKPA as colleague and friend for the last eight years.

For those not familiar with the Six Counties Kidney Patients Association, it’s a charity run by kidney patients to provide advice and support to fellow patients in our local area. The SCKPA was set up exactly 50 years ago and John was Chairman for ten of those 50 years, which makes him our longest serving Chairman.

During John’s time as Chairman, John and Bobbie together devoted a huge amount of their time to our charity. They were a team working for the SCKPA on a truly industrial scale. So we are doubly sorry that Bobbie is not able to be here with us today. Bobbie was a key member of the Champion Team and provided an enormous amount of support to John.

I got my first insight into the work John did, when I became his Vice Chairman in 2012. If I was going to be John’s deputy, I thought I’d better find out what he did. So I emailed him. And by return I received a list of duties about 50 items long. Only John could be that organized!  This was a truly amazing list.

  • There was the routine stuff, like arranging meetings and writing the Chairman’s Report.
  • There was the taxing stuff, like negotiating with hotels for our quarterly events
  • There was some unusual stuff, like doing interviews on local radio
  • And some really unusual stuff … like visiting a kidney patient serving 18 years in a high security prison.

John did all these things and took them all in his stride.

Most important of all, there was the task of tackling the major issues affecting kidney patients in our area. Something to which John devoted a very large amount of time and effort. I’ll just mention two examples:

In 2016 Stoke Mandeville Hospital wanted to start making dialysis patients pay for their hospital parking. John stepped in. He wrote a brilliant letter to the Chief Executive, and threatened to camp outside his office until the Chief Executive saw him. Not surprisingly, the Chief Executive relented and gave up this idea. John’s actions saved each one of these dialysis patients something like £800 a year.

Rising way above all the other major issues was the long-running story of the Renal Ward at the Churchill Hospital. This was a campaign John led for eight years. It was recognized by patients and staff alike that the Renal Ward at the Churchill was no longer up to the job. John took up the campaign for the old ward to be replaced.

He wrote letter after letter, and email after email to senior executives at the hospital, to the Care Quality Commission and to local MPs, one of whom happened to be David Cameron. He attended meeting after meeting with all these people too. He must have driven a couple of thousand miles back and forth between home and Oxford on this issue alone. John encountered knock-back after knock-back, delay after delay, but he never gave up.

I know that, when John stepped down as Chairman in 2017, his biggest disappointment at that time was that he had not succeeded in getting the go-ahead for the new ward. But John still did not give up and, although no longer our Chairman, John agreed to stay on to continue leading the campaign.

At last, in June this year, the hospital gave the go-ahead. The good news was announced at the SCKPA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration and there was rousing applause to thank John for all he had done. John knew his long campaign had at last succeeded, but he was too unwell to attend the celebration and receive our thanks. And sadly, John won’t be there to see the new ward when it opens in the autumn.

But John wasn’t just our Chairman. He was our friend. John had the amazing ability to remember all our members by name. He always found exactly the right words when asking how they felt and what they’d been up to. Everyone came away feeling appreciated. And John really did appreciate our members and always thanked them for coming to our meetings.

It was the same with the medical teams, working so hard in our renal departments. John had the highest regard for their care and skill. He really did appreciate the new lease of life his transplant gave him with the kidney donated by his sister, Liz. And he was thankful for the first-class renal care he received.

When dealing with senior managers at the hospitals on major issues like the renal ward. John was never hostile or aggressive. The case he presented was always well argued, factually based and fairly presented. And I think this was recognized and appreciated by the people at the hospital.  I would just like to repeat a few lines from an email I received from a senior executive at the Churchill when he heard John had died:

“John was such a considerate yet determined man … always having fellow patients’ and carers’ interests at the heart of his efforts. His diplomatic stewardship of the case for Renal and Transplant patients was exemplary and never wavering.”

I think that sums up John to a T. To us John was MR SCKPA. To us John will remain MR SCKPA. Speaking on behalf of everyone in our kidney patients association, we were privileged to have had John as our Chairman … and honoured to have had John as our friend.

Thank you.

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