I was very sad to learn that my dear friend and Acorns very first Chief Executive John Overton had passed away on Saturday 2 October.
John died peacefully in hospital, with his wife Margaret and their sons around him, where he had been since mid-July, having been taken ill at home.
John was one of the great early Acorns pioneers. He was recruited to the dream of a hospice for local children in the 1980s by Peter Wildblood. While many shared this dream, everyone from that time would say that it was John’s passion and charisma that was instrumental in all the plans coming together, a hospice being opened, and then a charity formed around it.
After the opening of the first hospice in Birmingham, John brought the same special mix of steely determination and alchemy to the opening of two further Acorns hospices, first in Walsall and then in Worcester. He helped Acorns consolidate as an organisation, with more and more children and families benefiting from the charity’s love, care and support. Shortly after the Worcester hospice opened, John retired, handing over the reins to his successor David Strudley.
Even in retirement, John was never far from Acorns. He and I spoke often, and he followed developments at Acorns with the keenest of interest. We had the huge privilege to welcome him and other founders back to Birmingham in 2018, to mark the 30th anniversary of the first Acorns hospice opening its doors to local children. He was also with us a few months later to welcome HRH The Duke of Cambridge back to the hospice in Birmingham to which John had invited his late mother, Princess Diana, to open in 1988.
It is impossible to overstate the impact that John Overton has had on vulnerable young members of the West Midlands community, and their families. He was a true social entrepreneur, almost always smiling, but with a laser-like determination that he put to excellent use over almost two decades persuading businesses, local healthcare establishments and professionals to back the idea of children’s hospice care first in Birmingham, and then in the Black Country and the Three Counties. Without John, we would obviously not have anything like the Acorns we know today.
John always described his vision as one where Acorns would become the charity of choice for the West Midlands. He knew that our long-term ability for Acorns to provide children’s hospice care across the region would need the charity to always occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of the local community. We must all strive each every day to keep John’s dreams for Acorns alive.
I am one of so many people at Acorns who will miss John deeply as a friend, as well as a trusted and wise counsel.
We send our deepest condolences from the whole Acorns family to Margaret and their sons.
We will always remember what this wonderful person managed to achieve for Acorns, and for the wider children’s hospice movement. Thank you, John!
Toby Porter, Acorns Chief Executive