Elizabeth O’Dell

Elizabeth O'Dell
Elizabeth O’Dell

Elizabeth O’Dell was a long standing member of BASW, and a former Vice Chair of the Social Workers’ Educational Trust.

Elizabeth died in 2014. She was an inspiration to many – and we are delighted to have the agreement of her family for a new award in her memory – The Elizabeth O’Dell Memorial Award. This award is to enable practitioners, working within an established project, engaged in innovative practice that is designed and informed by principles intended to uphold the dignity and respect of older people, to share their knowledge and experiences with others. The award should be used by the successful applicant(s) to contribute to the training and development of practitioners, or the dissemination of best practice through the publication of a practice paper or article, running of a workshop, or a particular training event.

Elizabeth was born in Minnesota, USA, where her father was a Presbyterian minister and her mother a teacher. Her parents were alongside people in those tough times in the 1930s and in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality in the US. They were also pacifists, taking part in anti-war marches. Elizabeth studied social work at the University of Minnesota and later worked at a student YWCA in Nebraska, a neighbourhood house in San Francisco’s Chinatown, with a paediatrics social work team in Boston, and community work in the small town of Pella, Iowa. She came to London in 1975 and was part of a specialist team working with elderly people in Westminster from 1980-97. After retirement she continued serving as an active member of BASW and the Social Workers’ Educational Trust.

I was first introduced to Elizabeth at the BASW AGM in Liverpool in 2009, when I asked for advice regarding social work jobs with refugees, preferably in or near London. I had only just moved to the UK and was busy applying for jobs. Elizabeth was more than happy to meet up with me the next week; our first meeting was by far from the last! She gave me lots of useful advice about Social Work in the UK, told me of its history and the – in her opinion – disastrous measures taken by Margaret Thatcher in the eighties. She was a colleague and soon became a friend; I will surely miss her!Annelies Barth, social worker with older adults in Essex
Following retirement Elizabeth also became a practice teacher tutor in Westminster, sharing her expertise and being the ideal role model for all aspiring social workers. She gave unstintingly of her time and practice wisdom, combining her research knowledge with a real understanding of what it means to work at the coal face. She had great clarity of expression, written and oral, and high but realistic expectations of her tutees. Elizabeth highly valued the academic contribution to Social Work but also recognised the need for Social Workers to value common sense and to use their innate personal skills. Her own personal skills and empathy are I think what those who knew her will most miss. If I had personal need for a Social Worker then without doubt Elizabeth would have been my choice.Vivien Freeman, Vice Chair of the Social Workers' Educational Trust