The Reverend Ron Dick retires today – on his 65th birthday – after 16 years as chaplain at the Borders General Hospital (BGH).
“It’s just been such a great experience,” he told TheSouthern: “I’ve found it tremendously fulfilling.”
Rev. Dick, the son of a doctor and a nurse, studied at the Universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh before becoming ordained as a Church of Scotland minister in 1973. Later he served at three parishes in Kilwinning in Ayrshire, Whitfield Parish Church in Dundee, and St John’s Church, Oxgangs, in Edinburgh, before taking the chaplaincy job at the BGH in 1996.
“I was advised by the Church of Scotland after my ordination that I needed more life experience,” he said. “So after 23 years in parish ministeries I came here to a hospital, where I’d wanted to be from the beginning.
“I spent years as a youth in and out of hospital,” he revealed, “and it was there I became conscious of the kindness of strangers, who gave time to sit with me and talk with me.
“So I felt the call to spend time with people – one of the most valuable things we can give to a person – and tried to be myself, with no agenda, and just sit and be with them going through the turmoil of emotions. You can’t really give a pill for that, and just having someone there to share that journey is important. Often they just need somebody there to help them verbalise the raw emotions they’re experiencing: for example, if they’ve just been told their life is going to be short, or parents being told the baby they’ve been expecting has died in the womb.
“I can’t give people answers or reasons, when that’s often what people are asking. And I can’t always say where God is in all of this. I don’t go there to give easy, quick, religious answers, because there aren’t any.
“But sometimes you can see the difference: they become calm, after at first not being able to talk, and they begin to express their emotions. In talking there can be healing, and release.”
Rev. Dick gained experience while at St John’s in Edinburgh in the late 1980s, when he joined the chaplaincy team at the city’s Soughton Prison, where he worked in the prison’s hospital. His next move to a part-time chaplaincy at Milestone House care home in Oxgangs confirmed in his own mind a calling to work in a hospital, and he successfully applied for the role as Chaplain to the BGH Trust in 1996. When the BGH Trust was replaced by NHS Borders in 2003, Ron became the hospital’s ‘Spiritual Care Manager’.
“It’s been difficult and draining, but I have never regretted the decision. One of the biggest challenges was managing my time: just trying to prioritise who I should be with. There was never adequate time to get as deeply involved with people as I would have liked. My philosophy has always been I should be with the person I’m with now for however long I need to be with them.
“There was no typical day. You’d no idea when you came in. I needed to be wherever people needed me to be, whether it was a patient, relative, or member of staff.
“It’s been a very rich life looking back. I don’t wish I’d travelled differently.”
Ron and his wife Margaret, whom he married 37 years ago in 1975, have a son Neil – a married 30-year-old Falkirk nurse with two children – and a daughter Jane, 32, who works in Edinburgh as an events planner.
“There’s still a life to be lived, and things to be learned,” he concluded. “I won’t be bored or idle, and plan to spend more time with my grandchildren.”