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Founder of Hibiscus Hospice dies at 102

Posted at 1:50pm Wednesday 16 Jun, 2021

Don't dwell on the past, always look forward and create your own future – that was the overriding philosophy of the co-founder of Hibiscus Coast Hospice, Carmen Urban, who died last month at the age of 102.

Carmen and her husband Bob moved to New Zealand from Germany with two young sons in 1963. Having lived through the trauma and privations of World War II and the start of the Cold War, they were looking for a fresh start and settled in Lower Hutt, until Bob's work as a machinery salesman prompted a move to the North Shore in 1971.

Keen gardener Carmen persuaded Bob to buy not just a house, but the Hibiscus Garden Centre on five acres of land at Stanmore Bay. Her youngest son, Martin, said this was a steep learning curve for his mother, learning about plants, their botanical names and their suitability for the clay soils and sea breezes of the Whangaparāoa peninsula.

“It was not unusual to see Mum surrounded by gardening books, reading, making notes, and then falling asleep in her chair, with a book in her hands,” he said.

Carmen sold the garden centre and retired in 1979, but she wasn't the type to sit around and do nothing, so quickly became a volunteer driver taking cancer patients to hospital appointments in Auckland. She also continued a lifelong love of dogs and bred boxer and schnauzer puppies.

It was while on a visit to see family and friends in California that Carmen first heard about the hospice movement and thought it was something needed locally. On her return to New Zealand she and Bob joined the North Shore Hospice Trust when it opened in 1983 and they went on to set up Hibiscus Hospice, in 1986, with a handful of volunteers and patients.

Martin said she and Bob were especially proud when they hired their first nurse, and they initiated a number of fundraising ideas, such as Christmas remembrance trees.

“Harbour Hospice has come a long way from those early beginnings,” Martin said.

Carmen stayed involved with hospice until she was in her late eighties, as well as remaining a keen gardener and traveller. She and Bob moved to Ōrewa in 2000, when their property was purchased for the Penlink access route, and to the Maygrove Retirement Village in 2007.

Martin said their last trip together was to San Francisco in 2007, to celebrate Bob's 90th birthday with their son Andrew and his family. Then, when Bob died in 2010, Carmen returned to San Francisco to stay with her son for three months, a trip she then repeated annually for six years until she was in her mid-nineties.

In 2018, Carmen made her final move, from Maygrove to the Lady Allum rest home in Milford, to be close to Martin and his family on the North Shore.

“She was the sort of person who never judged you, and she was always looking on the bright side,” Martin said of his mother. “She was an optimist, not a pessimist and she led a very wonderful, full life.”

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