Dora Opoku, 1948-2010

February 24, 2011

A pioneer of midwifery education, who was known for her sense of style and once outshone the Queen with an extraordinary hat, has died.

Dora Opoku was born in Ghana on 14 April 1948, trained as a nurse at Maryfield Hospital in Dundee and went on to train as a midwife at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

She was appointed head of midwifery education at the Royal London Hospital in 1984 and she joined City University London in 1995 as head of the department of midwifery in the School of Community and Health Sciences.

Alison Macfarlane, professor of perinatal health at City, said that her contribution to the area of midwifery was considerable. "She was one of the leaders who helped take her profession's education on its journey from something that was training within the NHS to higher education in a university," she said.

Professor Macfarlane said that Ms Opoku was "very proud, quite rightly", of her master's in medical ethics and law from King's College London.

Her zeal for driving midwifery education forward and her membership of the Association of Radical Midwives, were typical of her, Professor Macfarlane said.

"She was always very forward-thinking about where we needed to go next. Conversations with her would be challenging, but they would also be fun. She had a wonderful sense of humour."

Ms Opoku was seconded to work at the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting in 2001, and in 2004 she was appointed OBE for services to midwifery education.

"When she got the letter offering her the OBE, her initial reaction was scepticism about the 'British Empire' connotations of the title," Professor Macfarlane recalled.

"A niece staying with her persuaded her that it was not to be turned down, and, once Dora accepted it, she went for it with a big celebration and an outfit from Harrods, (including) the most amazing hat that completely overshadowed the Queen. Once she decided to do something, she really put her all into it," she said.

In 2010, Ms Opoku was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Midwives. She was made the first emeritus Fellow at City in the same year.

Professor Macfarlane said that, in addition to her academic achievements, Ms Opoku was a keen shopper who loved company. "Dora was naturally elegant and superbly dressed. She always looked wonderful. She enjoyed cooking and having parties. Even when she was ill, if you went round to see her, there were always lots of friends and family there."

Ms Opoku died of cancer on 17 December 2010.

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