Obituary: Dr Maggie Costen
AT HER funeral at Forest Methodist Church on Monday 5 November, a eulogy for Maggie Costen was read out by her daughter Sarah and son David.
‘On the afternoon Mum died my sister-in-law Alex said to me, “Maggie was so many different things to so many different people”,’ said Sarah. ‘And indeed she was. She was a mum, a sister, an auntie, a cousin, a niece and mother-in-law. She was a mentor, a supporter and a protagonist of so many good causes, a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and she was a genuine and dear friend to so many.’
Margaret Williams was born on 10 August 1947 in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, to director of teaching Cyril and teacher Celia. She was the younger sister of Barbara and the older sister of Jane.
Educated at Cyfarthfa Grammar School in Merthyr Tydfil, becoming deputy head girl, she played the viola, reaching the level of the Mid Glamorgan Youth Orchestra, and was a proficient hockey player, leading to a trial with the Welsh schools’ team. Because of her long, black hair she was nicknamed Minnehaha, shortened to Min.
Her older sister, Barbara, went to University College London to study science. Maggie tried to follow her, but in those days women weren’t admitted to study medicine. So, at the age of 17, she went to Leeds Medical School (returning to Merthyr during the holidays to work in the local pie factory). She took her nickname with her and to many friends today she is still known as Min.
There, in her first year, she met Peter Costen. They would later marry and have David and Sarah.
Maggie graduated at the age of 22 and was one of only eight out of 80 in her year to gain a first-class honours degree – most of the eight were women.
Her first job, post-graduation, was as pre-registration house officer on the open-heart surgery unit at Leeds General Infirmary.
She developed an interest in dermatology and was one of the few women in the 1970s to have a paper published in The Lancet and in the British Medical Journal on the same day.
She worked in dermatology at the LGI for six months under three consultants, one of whom, Bill Cunliffe, asked her to stay on as his research senior house officer and then registrar.
Cunliffe’s research was on acne and here Maggie saw how much the skin disease blighted young people’s lives. She became increasingly interested in psychiatry, talking often about the connection between the skin and the psyche.
Maggie and Peter and the children came to Guernsey in 1975, with Peter becoming an anaesthetist at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
Maggie soon built up a large practice of dermatology patients and in due course she was offered work at the then Castel Psychiatric Hospital, becoming an associate specialist psychiatrist.
‘Her qualities of being empathetic, non-judgemental and resilient lent perfectly to this role,’ said David. ‘Their comradeship [at the CPH], as well as a liberal supply of black coffee, and lack of smoke-free policy, helped sustain her there for over 30 years.’
Many people knew Maggie through her tireless charity work.
‘Throughout our lives she has supported so many different charities and I think more than one member of our family has obtained the voluntary section of their gold Duke of Edinburgh through Mum’s links with the Guernsey Cheshire Home,’ said Sarah.
As well as the Cheshire Home, Maggie was chairwoman of the Guernsey Association of Charities, supported the Guernsey Alcohol Advisory Service (formerly Gadac), Guernsey Mind and was chairwoman and trustee for the former Maison St Pierre. She was a trustee of Caritas and worked for Guernsey Women’s Aid and the Guernsey Advisory Service. Recently she worked for the Methodist circuit, the domestic abuse charity Safer, and Les Cotils Christian Centre.
In 2010 she received the Specsavers Unsung Hero Award and in 2016 was made an MBE.
‘As children we would often ask Mum what we were doing on Saturday,’ said Sarah. ‘And she would regularly reply: “We can do anything – but between 12 noon and 1pm we are outside Boots selling flags”.’
Former colleague Ronnie Brown remembers a friend who was genuine, not pretentious.
‘She was generous to a fault. A giver not a taker. Sincere but not naive. She readily made judgements, as required of her by her position of responsibility, but was never judgemental. Diminutive and lightweight in stature but a giant and heavyweight in character. Unwavering in her sense of duty. Courageous in the face of adversity. Never one to be bullied, or see others bullied by those who could abuse positional power. She stood against the wrongdoing of others in all circumstances. She was, in short, absolute in her integrity.
‘It may be the case that a person never fully departs this world while remaining in the memories of their close friends and loved ones. I am privileged to have known her as a colleague and as a friend. The world has been a better place for her being in it.’
Maggie was indeed ‘so many different things to so many different people’.
‘I think one of her proudest roles, though, was of being a granny,’ said David. ‘When Alex and I asked her to have a regular slot in caring for our daughter Imogen she was delighted. Mum embraced this role, though never let it get in the way of her busy days. They always called me on a Wednesday to tell me where they were going. It usually started at Roundabout toddler group but then the Dinosaur Doctor Lunch, the odd Policy Council meeting and even being interviewed on Radio Guernsey more than once.
‘Before Mum was ill I asked Imogen what she thought of when she thought of Magster, and she said “fun and sweets”. Imogen adored her.’
‘Perhaps most importantly to her was that she was a granny – though this was not a term she liked, preferring to be known as Maggie or, indeed, Magster.
‘She has told David and I on many occasions that being a granny was far more fun and enjoyable than being a mum ever had been and my boys, Sam and Tom, have been blessed with many years of Maggie fun.
‘One of the highlights of the boys’ school holidays was coming to help me with childcare. She would totter up our front path in deepest Derbyshire in the most vertically challenging footwear, dragging a suitcase bulging with the most inappropriate presents for children. Everything was either slimy, edible, needed batteries, needed inflating, lit up, whizzed around or terrified the cat. They didn’t care, she didn’t care, they just loved it.’
On the front of the order of service there was written the words: ‘She could do anything in the right shoes.’ Those who loved Maggie, who worked with her or benefited from her hard work and kindness, know this to be absolutely true.