International Nurses Day: remembering Denise Tabernacle

12 May 2015

Stephanie Nieldby Stephanie Nield

To mark International Nurses Day today, I want to tell the story of Denise Tabernacle, a remarkable woman who was one of the first nurses to work with Leonard Cheshire.

Born in 1926 in Hampshire, Denise had been a teacher at the Newton Abbot Art School. But towards the end of the 1950s, she gave it all up to train as a state-registered nurse, and became one of the first nurses of the fledgling Leonard Cheshire Foundation — now Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Denise on her own reading and with Nathaniel Davies
Denise at Newton Abbot, reading and with artist Nathaniel Davies

Alone and with £50 in her pocket to get things started, ‘Miss T’ (as the locals called her) was sent to Ethiopia to be matron and nurse at a home for disabled children in Addis Ababa.

She had five years to establish the home, plan and deliver care for the children and then train local people to take over after she left.

She forged links with the local community from her own hard work and contacts. Cheshire Services Ethiopia celebrated its golden jubilee in 2012.

Denise with a group of people in Ghana
Ghana was one of the countries where Denise (third from the right) worked during her time with Leonard Cheshire

Following the success in Ethiopia, Denise dedicated the rest of her life to disabled people. By the time of her death in 1987 she had set up services for disabled people in places including the Seychelles, Morocco, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda and Ghana, all with the aim of making the world a better place for everyone, regardless of ability.

Denise's life is just one example of how a nurse's hard work and dedication contributed towards our ultimate aim of a society where everyone is equally valued.

Stephanie Nield is Leonard Cheshire Disability's archivist. Thank you to the estate of Nathaniel Davies's for the art school photos. Find out more about our international work and the Leonard Cheshire Disability archive.


A lovely story of an extraordinary lady. I am glad to say I also work at LCD.

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