Our CEO, Laura Lee, receives Damehood at Buckingham Palace

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Our Chief Executive, Laura Lee, was invested as Dame, Commander of the Order of the British Empire at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday 12 February 2020.

Laura Lee was 30 years old and working at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland where she became the oncology nurse for Maggie Keswick Jencks.

Laura and Maggie became friends, and in the course of Maggie’s treatment they began to talk about how much Maggie needed both practical and emotional support over and above her medical treatment.

Maggie and Laura began to work out the fundamentals for the cancer caring centre they wanted to set up at the Western General.

Six months after Maggie’s death in July 1995, in January of 1996, The Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres Trust (Maggie’s) was set up as a registered charity. Laura, as its new Chief Executive, picked up the reins and got the first centre built, opening the doors in November 1996.

Laura Lee said:

I am overwhelmed and humbled to be receiving this recognition at Buckingham Palace today. It is absolutely an acknowledgement of what everyone does at Maggie’s every day. The difference our centres make to the lives of people with cancer is something I see every time I sit round one of our kitchen tables.

Being CEO of such an incredible organisation is a privilege that I never take for granted. The people I meet every day are the ones who I constantly learn from, and we will continue to work to build centres for everyone who needs them.

When the first Maggie’s centre opened more than two decades ago the general opinion was that if you got good medical care that was enough, but we know that cancer brings such difficult and complex emotions of uncertainty, loneliness and anxiety that people need more support with. Their families do as well and that is what Maggie’s does - day after day.  We support people to live well with cancer. We have come a long way but our dream is to see 60 centres across the UK one day.

Under Laura’s guidance we have grown at an incredible rate, despite relying almost entirely on voluntary donations, and there are now 26 centres across the UK, as well as centres in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Barcelona.

Claire Tattersall, 43, from Bo’Ness near Edinburgh, has been supported by Maggie’s Edinburgh since she was first diagnosed with bone cancer in 1997, just before she turned 21. She said:

Living with a cancer diagnosis, especially as a young woman, is really difficult and I don’t know how I would have coped without having the wonderful Maggie’s staff on hand to listen to and answer my questions.

I knew Laura at that time and I think it is extraordinary how, as Maggie’s Chief Executive for the last 23 years, she has worked so hard to ensure thousands of people across the UK and abroad can now visit their nearest Maggie’s and find the support they need. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this recognition more.

Our centres are visited more than 280,000 times a year by people with cancer and their families. 

More than 90 per cent of visitors report feeling less alone after visiting their nearest centre and that they have a better understanding of cancer. 

The same number of visitors also make healthy changes to their diet and exercise after speaking to our expert staff. 

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