Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE
1930 – 2011
We should today have all been reflecting on a wonderfully successful Donkey Week but we are all still reeling from the tragic news of the passing of “Dr S”. On Wednesday Dr S suffered a massive stroke and sadly passed away at 1.25pm in Exeter Hospital with members of her family and June Evers, her friend since childhood, at her bedside. We can take some comfort that the suddenness of the onset and severity of the stroke meant it all happened very quickly and she would not have suffered. Although it is very sad that we have lost her we all know that she would have hated suffering any incapacity not being able to do what she loved best being amongst her animals, family, staff, friends and supporters.
In 1969, when she set out on the road of helping donkeys and mules in any way she could to improve their lives, she could not have known what a legacy she would build. From small beginnings of taking into her care animals that were being poorly and badly treated the major turning point was inheriting 204 donkeys from one legacy. Overnight her life changed, a charity was set up that has led to 14,500 donkeys and mules being taken into care in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Mainland Europe.
In 1976 she started The International Donkey Trust (IDPT) and set about tackling the massive care and welfare problems facing tens of millions of donkeys and mules around the world. In 2010 the subsequently merged charities of The Donkey Sanctuary and IDPT worked directly or indirectly in 29 countries around the world, reaching over 400,000 donkeys in our 5 main overseas project countries alone, and spreading the word on care and welfare to as many communities as possible.
In 1975 she turned her hand to another campaign area, how to provide therapy for additional needs children through the bringing together of the children with donkeys and the Slade Centre here in Sidmouth was born. Thirty six years later under the name Elisabeth Svendsen Trust (EST) there are now six specially equipped centres in the United Kingdom, the latest in Belfast only opening a few days ago. A mobile unit operating in the Nottingham area also started up this week, and smaller units operate in Spain and soon to be in Italy.
In amongst setting up The Donkey Sanctuary, IDPT and EST her work was being recognised around the world and she received numerous awards, including an MBE in 1980 and two Doctorates from Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. She was also a prolific author.
Whilst all this was being achieved we all just knew and loved her as “Dr S” and even after she stepped down from the day to day stresses and strains of being Chief Executive of both The Donkey Sanctuary and EST she remained involved on a daily basis, visiting the donkeys and the Slade Centre as often as she could.
All of us have our own memories of working with Dr S but those of us that were lucky enough to be in her company during Donkey Week will have seen someone appearing to be in the picture of health. She was clearly enjoying meeting Donkey Weekers, speaking at the “Sermon on the Mount” opening of the week, and again at the special gathering of those that have been coming 10 years or more, during the Church Service at Tedburn St Mary, and perhaps most noticeably at the closing of Donkey Week, where she talked to Supporters and Staff, telling jokes that none of us would have been brave enough to tell. She was as lively as ever, doing what she loved and we will remember that closing speech forever.
Dr S, you built The Donkey Sanctuary into the international organisation it is today and I know I speak for all of us when I say we, your staff, will continue your work both in The Donkey Sanctuary and in EST in your memory.
To Paul, Dawn and all of the family and to June, her lifelong friend, our thoughts are with you.
An online book of condolences has been set up on The Donkey Sanctuary website, so that all those who knew and loved Dr S can record their own memories and messages of condolence.
The Donkey Sanctuary