Charity campaigner Bob honoured by the Queen
Published on: 02 Jan 2015
WHEN Bob Woodward received his OBE from the Queen at Windsor Castle last month, it was the crowning glory of four decades of remarkable charity work.
Many people in Bristol felt that the honour was overdue, given Bob’s incredible efforts in founding the children’s cancer charity CLIC and his work with many other good causes.
But for Bob, 81, who lives in Frenchay, it was worth the wait. He attended the ceremony with his wife Judy, son James and daughter Rachel, who have given unstinting support to his efforts over the years.
“We had a lovely, lovely time,” he said. “The Queen was quite taken aback to hear that I had started fundraising so long ago.”
The story has its roots in tragedy, because it was when his son Robert was diagnosed with cancer in 1974 that Bob realised that services for children with cancer and their families had to change.
“The treatment was meagre – barbaric really. Everything was so sparse. There was no separate for treatment for children,” he said.
“We are light years away from that now. When I look back on all the things we have been involved in and have pioneered, it is staggering.”
CLIC - Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood charity – started small, with the aim of improving improve treatment, welfare and research. Bob still has the minute books from those early days.
The charity expanded rapidly, thanks to “a whole army of people, the CLIC family”.
Sadly, after undergoing tough treatments, Robert died in 1977 at the age of 11. Bob and Judy then had another son, Hugh, who had Down’s Syndrome and a weak heart and died at four years old.
Yet Bob still says: “I have been very, very blessed.”
He believes this double tragedy - plus his own diagnosis with inoperable prostate cancer 13 years ago – has helped him support others through their heartache.
“I can say to them ‘I know what you are going through’ – and they understand that I really do,” he said.
Bob, who grew up in Overndale Road, was a successful builder when Robert became ill – having started his own business at the age of 19.
“I was a painter and decorator. I got Judy to go to Downend Library to get a book on how to build your own house. I got somebody to back me with my first piece of land and I was away,” he said.
He was joined by his brother John and the pair built an award-winning business.
But Bob put it all aside for his charity work. He turned a bungalow in Frenchay, which he had been planning to demolish, into the first “home from home” giving free accommodation for families of children with cancer. This was the first of a nationwide network close to children’s cancer treatment centres.
“It was the best thing I have ever done,” said Bob. “Money pales into insignificance compared with being there for people in their hour of need. When you are prepared to give yourself, it is wonderful how you can be used.”
Bob formed relationships with many of the families supported by CLIC and attended more than 300 children’s funerals, speaking at many of them.
“They all has something special about them. I have met the most incredible people.”
Bob’s work led to the development of CLIC UK and later CLIC International. He formed a strong bond with Soviet president Mikail Gorbachev after he visited Moscow in the early 1990s in the wake of the Cheronobyl disaster.
The charity, which also established a research unit at Bristol University, merged with the Sargent Cancer Fund in 1995 to become CLIC Sargent, and is now the country’s biggest childhood cancer care charity.
Many other charitable causes have benefited from Bob’s involvement, including the Jack and Jill Appeal for Frenchay’s children’s ward, the Rhys Daniels Appeal and Children’s Hospice South West. Bob was involved in the early days, helping founders Eddie and Jill Farwell to start the original hospice in Barnstaple, and later Charlton Farm, near Bristol.
He administered the Starfish Trust for millionaires Charlie and Mary Dobson, giving money to help disabled youngsters.
Most recently, he has been supporting the appeal for a hydrotherapy pool at Claremont School in Bristol – which is now very close to its target.
He said: “I have had some really magical moments along the way. I have had a fabulous innings. I have been so privileged and I am very grateful.”