A tribute to mental health nurse Robert (Bob) Combes

Robert (Bob) Combes was born in 1943. He died at his home on 19 June 2016. 

Bob Combes had all the qualities of a good mental health nurse. Amongst other things, he was compassionate, non- judgemental, kind, giving in nature and an attentive listener.  

He promoted and championed nursing and the nursing voice at every opportunity. Those who knew him and worked with him benefitted from his encouragement and his wisdom. He encouraged everyone to achieve what they wanted to.  

Bob was someone that we had the utmost respect for as did anyone who had the privilege to come into contact with him. He was quietly spoken, thoughtful, honest, and highly inspirational; someone we could always rely on for support and understanding. His approach and demeanour embodied all the qualities of the therapeutic relationship which he practised in a variety of contexts until shortly before his death.

Bob trained as a state registered nurse (SRN) at St Giles Hospital, Camberwell, South East London, completing his training in 1962. It was during this time that he met his future wife Ann, resulting in their marriage of nearly 50 years. They had four children, Amanda, Paul, Rachel and Adrian.

On competing his SRN training he then went to the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals to train as a registered mental nurse (RMN). Whilst remaining at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals, he completed a nurse tutor training course before taking up post at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, as a tutor and then a senior tutor. There he ran the integrated general and psychiatric nurse training course.

In 1980, Bob returned to the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals School of Nursing as the director of nurse education (DNE) where he remained until 1991. During his time as DNE, he was instrumental in overseeing a number of key initiatives in mental health nursing, including a number of English National Board clinical courses and the establishment of a nursing department in the internationally renowned Institute of Psychiatry. 

On leaving the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley School of Nursing he took up a position at Guys Hospital School of Nursing before moving to Trinity Hospice as head of studies for a number of years.

In addition to his nurse training, he was also a trained psychotherapist and counsellor, a role he practiced until recently. Bob was very generous with his time and the sharing of his skills and held a number of volunteering positions, including chair of a local Cruse Bereavement Service for 20 years, supervisor with Croydon Pastoral Foundation and chair of the Princess Royal Trust.

Bob was a cricket fanatic and played for many clubs as a top class club batsman, including Bethlem Royal Cricket Club (CC), Walworth Sports CC and Edenbeck CC. He was also a Surrey CC member. A further passion was being a member of the Labour Party.

Bob shall be missed by all who knew him and we extend our sympathies to Ann and his family.


Professor Mary Chambers, professor of mental health nursing, Kingston University and St George’s University of London
Richard Frisby, lecturer, mental health, Kings College, University of London (Retired)