Compassionate Friends was founded in Coventry, England, in 1969,
following the deaths of two young boys, Billy Henderson and Kenneth
Lawley, the previous spring. Billy and Kenneth had died just
three days apart in the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital where
Rev. Simon Stephens was Assistant to the Chaplain. Simon mentioned
Billy's death to Iris and Joe Lawley, and the Lawleys decided
to send flowers to Billy's funeral. The signed the card simply, "Kenneth's
parents," realizing that the Hendersons would know who they
Bill and Joan Henderson then invited the Lawleys over for tea,
and an immediate bond was formed as the two couples spoke freely
about their boys, sharing their memories and the dreams that
had died with Billy and Kenneth. They continued to get together
regularly, and young Rev. Stephens, then only 23, encouraged
them to invite other newly bereaved parents to join them. In
1969, another grieving mother accepted their invitation to meet
with Simon and the two couples. They decided to organize as a
self-help group and actively begin reaching out to newly bereaved
parents in their community. Because the word "compassionate" kept
coming up, this new organization was called "The Society
of the Compassionate Friends."
Simon became a chaplain in the British Royal Navy in the 70's.
He was met by bereaved parents at ports around the world, and
he helped them to develop their own chapters. TCF had become
well-known through U.K. and U.S.A. editions of such magazines
as Time and Good Housekeeping. Paula and Arnold Shamres of Florida
read Simon's interview in Time Magazine and invited him to visit
them in Florida and speak to bereaved parents there. He did,
and the Shamres subsequently founded the first U.S. chapter in
1972. Word of the organization spread rapidly through interest
generated by the Phil Donahue Show and the columns of Dear Abby
and Ann Landers.
The Compassionate Friends was incorporated in the United States
as a non-profit organization in 1978.
In 1989, The Compassionate Friends of Great Britain dedicated
a plaque commemorating the founding of the organization, at the
Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital where TCF had begun. The plaque
was unveiled by their patron, Countess Mountbatten, herself a
Then in November, 1994, Queen Elizabeth presented Iris Lawley
with a medal, The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire,
in recognition of her work on behalf of TCF.
There are now Compassionate Friends chapters in every state in
the United States—almost 600 altogether—and hundreds
of chapters in Canada, Great Britain and other countries throughout
the world. In the United States, chapters are open to all bereaved
parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members who
are grieving the death of a child of any age, from any cause.
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