Obituary: Betty Lee, the nurse who inspired hundreds, dies aged 96
- Credit: Norwich Nurses League
A long-serving nurse whose inspirational career has been immortalised with an annual lecture has died at the age of 96.
Betty Lee, of Norwich, became a nurse shortly after her 18th birthday and would go on to inspire hundreds of others in the profession.
From caring for celebrities to teaching student nurses, Miss Lee’s chosen career was more than a nine-to-five job for her – it became a vocation she remained passionate about.
Betty Lila Lee was born on April 25, 1925, to her mother Lily May and father Thomas Caleb Lee. As a child she lived in a terrace house in Northcote Road, Norwich, and attended schools at Bull Close, George White and later the Blyth School.
In 1957, as soon as it was legal for women to gain a mortgage, she snapped up a house in Cambridge Street, close to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, for her and her mother.
This became not only her home but also a place at which family were welcome for tea and chat. She was always ready at the door with the parking permit and cakes and sausage rolls laid out. She remained there until her death.
Miss Lee role-modelled what it was to invest in a vocation and not just have a job.
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On leaving school, her intention was to enter nursing but she had to wait until she was 18 so began her work as an admin assistant at Norwich’s OXO office.
As soon as she was able, she entered nursing with initial training undertaken in London's East End at the Mile End Hospital. It was an area in which she experienced working with those in poverty and in real danger of bombing and doodlebugs during the war years.
In those days, there were strict rules at the nurse’s accommodation with everyone having to be in by 10.30pm. As someone who looked out for others, Miss Lee recounted how she would make sure a downstairs window was left ajar for nurses who were out after hours with boyfriends to sneak back in.
On moving back to Norwich, Miss Lee progressed in nursing becoming a sister at the then Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and soon specialised in orthopaedics.
Patient care was her priority and during her career she cared both for the ordinary and famous; in her eyes everyone was equal. She recalled stories of nursing celebrities from Norwich City Football Club and the Norwich Stars Speedway team who suffered sporting injuries as well as ordinary people who had succumbed to tuberculosis.
She led the nursing team that supported the renowned George Kenneth McKee, who pioneered the hip replacement operation.
Later, Miss Lee progressed to become a sister tutor overseeing the training of nurses, much of which took place on the ward.
In a statement, her family said: “Many nurses will fondly remember sister Lee as an important career mentor; she was a genuine role model for many nurses.
“As a family, she was our 'go to' person when we needed medical advice and showed great compassion for us in a moment of need.
“If Betty had begun her medical career now – as a family we think she may well have trained as doctor. That’s in no way decrying the vital role of nurses but her clear passion and expertise may have taken her on a different career trajectory.”
Miss Lee was also very active in the N&N's Nurses League which celebrates nursing in the region and provided networking and educational opportunities.
She became an associate member in the 1950s, followed by roles as assistant secretary and secretary. On leaving the trustees she became an honorary vice president.
In 2018, the then president of the league, Mary Dolding, proposed the idea of an annual lecture in Miss Lee’s name to recognise, on an ongoing basis, her phenomenal contribution to nursing, teaching and the league.
The same year, the first annual Betty Lee Lecture was delivered at the hospital. Miss Lee attended and spoke at some length at the end of the lecture, expressing her appreciation.
Miss Lee also invested time in other ventures and was a role model in giving her time freely to support different causes. Most notably she was a long-term volunteer at Stranger’s Hall, Norwich’s famous Tudor house part of Norwich’s Museum estate.
Her volunteering also extended to supporting at church over many years, from leading children’s church groups, teaching accounts from the Bible, and rolling up her sleeves to regularly help with the floral displays and support the youth group at Holy Trinity.
Christianity has been described as “central” to her life.
The family statement concludes: “As a family, we want to acknowledge that Betty was a true role model on so many levels; within the family, at work, and in her volunteering and faith.
“She was greatly loved and hugely valued by us all. I think any family would have respected and esteemed her and been delighted to count her as one of their relations.
"Betty will never be forgotten.”