I recall when our Social Work Director Sue Cumming, suggested to me that Ruth Buch might be a very suitable person to join our team. I knew that a social worker named Ruth had started in our department sometime earlier, and was working at the time in the aged care team, but I did not know Ruth other than by sight. She came, however, well recommended, as I was told she was grounded, keen to learn, and brought much common sense.

How fabulous I thought! I was rapt!! …. Yes please ­ she was welcome to our team !

Then I was the team leader for the Chronic Diseases Team (CDIT) in the Princess Alexandra Hospital Social Work Department. The Team was a relatively new one, at the time Ruth joined us; having been formed through the amalgamation of two teams, about a year or so before, Ruth came on board. There were five teams in the department, enabling each social worker, (approximately 50 altogether) to have a home base, and to receive professional support and supervision.

Traditionally, social work has valued the provision of individual professional support, recognising the many complexities inherent in our day to day work. These complexities manifest in many ways, ranging from challenging ethical dilemmas,

  • to the sourcing of appropriate resources and support for the individuals and families with whom we work;
  • to the development of appropriate policies and procedures, all within the broader organisational system within which we operate;
  • prioritising, planning and the delivery of service to people experiencing both acute and chronic medical conditions, form our core daily business.

Ruth found herself immersed in our team which generally comprised about six to eight social workers. The CDIT looked after patients in the cardiac, renal, liver transplant, gastroenterology and urology areas. The main area of Ruth’s work was in the cardiology unit, which she shared alongside with Carla. From the start, Carla was wonderful supporter of and for Ruth. Each having two daughters around a similar age group, it was clear that Carla and Ruth already had a lot in common, and in sharing the office with one another, I know that they as much appreciated one another’s intrinsic understanding of the raising of young women in the 21st­century, as they did patients and families dealing with major cardiac issues!

My major contact with Ruth was as her team leader and supervisor. The team had monthly meetings at which we discussed issues, explored articles, and discuss developments in the hospital and the social work department. Each month was an opportunity for different social workers in the team to provide feedback on articles read and events attended. Ruth embraced all of this with great gusto, and she became a very valued member of our team.

I was really interested, when I first met Ruth, to learn that she had lived in Melbourne for some years, and was a graduate from one of the Victorian universities; very similar to my own background. I had worked in Melbourne for several years before working at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Whilst Ruth’s and my paths did not cross in Melbourne, it transpired that we had a shared familiarity with various situations and mutually knew a few people. As much as we discussed social work matters in supervision, not infrequently we found ourselves drifting in conversation to the various situations, agencies and experiences we both had whilst working and studying in Melbourne, and I think we really enjoyed that. We laughed quite a bit I recall! I always found Ruth to be very reflective, gracious, extremely calm and well mannered, enjoyable to be with, and she truly had a beautiful smile.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

However, there is something else I am particularly indebted to Ruth for. In several of our very early supervision sessions, Ruth told me about a particular book she had read, around the topic of solution focused therapy. Indeed, I had heard of this therapeutic and counselling framework, and had read a little around the area; but was not overly familiar with it. In one of our supervision sessions, Ruth brought a copy of the book that she had been reading about solution focused therapy by a well-regarded practitioner in the area. She extolled its virtues and thought this would be an interesting area for us to discuss. The book had a red cover, so we affectionately called it “The Little Red Book”. Ruth offered to lend me the book so I could read a few chapters to learn more about some of the ideas. I gladly took her up on this and very shortly found myself engrossed with the writings.

Before I knew it, rather than just photocopying a chapter from the book I photocopied the entire book, and read it cover to cover. So it became quite a thing between us – the Little Red Book and the impact it had. I was so pleased to be able to tell Ruth before she died, that bringing that Little Red Book to supervision those years before, had inspired me to do some further training and attend two conferences in the area, which was now providing a framework within which I practice, and now explore (in a basic way) with students and team members.

Without a doubt, I owe debt of gratitude to Ruth for introducing me to this highly valued framework. It makes my work with patients, families and team members more refreshing, more focused, and I believe more productive in the outcome. And those things could only be described as a social worker’s dream. So whilst I was supervisor, it was Ruth who taught me. I will never forget this, and Ruth is, therefore, always with me on this professional journey. Along with the learnings from our Little Red Book ­ it was the decency, the compassion, the grace, the courage and the tenacity which are some of the most poignant values for which I will always remember Ruth.

One of my greatest sorrows was that Ruth, had to leave our team way sooner than should ever have been; which left us all so much poorer and sadder. Our team, however, was enormously grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Buch family’s life over the period of time we could be ­ and we have loved getting to know more about Ruth, and all of her friends and family through that long year of an extended passing.

I share with the Social Work Department’s deepest condolence to the family. Whilst we were so happy that Ruth could be with you for several years after her cruel diagnosis ­ her loss leaves us so bereft.

Ruth will always be remembered with the greatest affection and as a highly professional social worker.

Cathy Martin, 24 May 2014