Vital Hospice Work Helps Bob Adjust To Retirement

Self-confessed workaholic Bob O’Halloran says ellenor helped ease him into retirement from the busy corporate world which dominated his life for nearly 37 years.

After retiring early from his dynamic career with Network Rail, he came to work for the charity as Health and Safety officer for three days a week. After five years he stepped down from this part-time paid role and now volunteers four hours a week greeting visitors to the hospice in Northfleet.

He said: “I think a lot of people who have had busy jobs find it difficult to adjust. I had been working 70 and 80-hour weeks for Network Rail and it’s not easy to just stop.

“I came from a very intense corporate world, so I was amazed when I joined ellenor. In my old world not a day went by without discussing something with intensity or raising my voice, but ellenor was a revelation. I never raised my voice in five and a half years.

“It was a totally different working environment, but not because the pressure or the intensity of the job was any less. It was because of people’s approach to each other. It wasn’t about climbing over someone to get to something. There was such empathy between fellow members of staff.

“As Health and Safety officer, I visited all ellenor’s premises, every shop and workplace. Wherever you go you find the same kind of people. They might not be getting the greatest wages in the world, but what they want to do is help. Lots of them will remain friends for years and years to come. It’s a great place to work, it really is. My years with ellenor have probably been some of the most enjoyable of my working life.”

Bob said that when he retired from ellenor, continuing as a volunteer felt like the right thing to do.

“All the volunteers are great people,” he said. “Giving something back makes me feel good and being a host makes such a difference. I only give four hours a week – it’s nothing when you think how many hours people waste just looking at nonsense on their mobile phones when they could be helping others!”

Bob can certainly empathise with staff and volunteers at the hospice and understand some of the challenges faced by patients with life limiting illnesses and their families. He underwent nearly 10 years of dialysis until he was lucky enough to have a renal transplant in 1993.

He said: “My son Daniel was very young at the time, and he didn’t know a time without me going into hospital. I spent three nights a week there having dialysis while I slept and got up and went to work the next day.

“So, when I see patients coming into the hospice, I think there but for the grace of god … that could have been me 30 years ago. When you have experienced a life altering event it gives you a fresh perspective.


“I feel my life is blessed in so many ways. I got a job that I didn’t really want, and it turned into a great career with a pension which meant I didn’t really have to work again if I didn’t want to. I’m also lucky to have one of the top consultants looking after me at the Royal Free Hospital.”

Bob, the eldest of six children, joined Network Rail in about 1976 after his train driver father had a friendly word with his supervisor. For the first 10 years he was a fitter for Southeastern commuter trains. He soon moved his way up the career ladder until he became National Head of Safety Improvement. But, at the age of 56, he decided to take early retirement.

He said: “I thought I would take my pension and do nothing, but I got a bit bored, so I joined ellenor the following year. It suited me perfectly, working 18 hours a week over three days.”

Bob is married to Claire, who works as a carer. They met about 20 years ago when his career still took up the majority of his time.

He said: “Claire taught me to switch off my phone at weekends and introduced me to holidays, and we are very fortunate to have been to so many different places. I don’t think I would have made it for as long as I have and achieved so much without her.”

Since his retirement from ellenor Bob has also enjoyed spending more time with their six-year-old Labrador Phoenix.

He said: “Once you are given a new kidney, you should do everything you can to look after it. I suppose getting to know Phoenix better has also improved my fitness as I take him for a walk every day, come rain or shine. When I was working for network Rail I never walked anywhere. I drove to the station, got a train and got on the tube.”

Although Bob, 63, now lives a very healthy life, his kidney problems meant he was on the vulnerable list when the Covid restrictions were first imposed by the government.

He said: “Because of furlough I was more or less semi-retired for 18 months before I decided to give up my health and safety role at ellenor. I said I would volunteer because I wanted to keep my hand in and keep my brain active. Volunteering seemed like such a wonderful thing to do. There’s so much you get from it. It’s about feeling valued, being useful and helping people who genuinely need your support.

“As a host you are a conduit to make sure people arriving, often for the first time, are met with a friendly face. You are there to tell them what they need to do and show them where they need to go.

“It’s not taxing physically and it’s very rewarding, mainly because you get to meet so many people in so many different situations. People come in for all sorts of reasons because they have lost someone maybe or because they want to donate. We want them to know that what they are doing is wonderful.”