FAMILY and friends will gather on Friday to remember an Amesbury woman who founded a chain of upmarket nursing homes and donated land for the establishment of Naomi House Children’s Hospice.

Mary Cornelius-Reid, who died on January 14 after a short illness, founded the Amesbury Abbey Group, which now operates three large nursing homes in Wiltshire and Hampshire and another in Portugal.

She was born in Folkestone, the daughter of a sea captain, and trained as a nurse. It was after working as a night sister in Winchester, she decided to start a nursing home at Nether Wallop, which she opened in 1972. The venture was so successful that Amesbury Abbey followed in 1980 and Sutton Manor in 1987. Then in 1997 Mrs Cornelius-Reid converted a property in Portugal, building homes in the grounds.

Her elder daughter Rosemary Reid, who is a consultant obstetrician in New Zealand, said in the middle of all this her mother had been chairman of the Nursing Home Association. She said: “In the mid-70s she was the first person to come up with the concept of sheltered housing in the grounds of a nursing home. It was that vision that led to her getting the MBE in 2001 for services to health care.

“Her success was down to her attention to detail and her personal touch. She cared about everyone who came in and was a stickler for things being right. She was a successful and gifted business person without any formal training. But she was not penny-pinching and had marvellous taste.”

Until two years ago, Mrs Cornelius-Reid, who was the widow of John Cornelius-Reid, lived at Cholderton House. But after it was destroyed in a fire, she had to move out while it was being rebuilt. She had accommodated village garden fetes and her civic-mindedness extended to allowing archaeologists to dig extensively on her land in Amesbury.

In the 1990s, Mrs Cornelius-Reid offered land near Sutton Manor to volunteers looking to create a children’s hospice to serve Hampshire and Wiltshire. Naomi House opened in 1997 and was named after her younger daughter.

Originally 12 roses were enough to settle the rent but on its 15th anniversary, the hospice added another three to her bunch. Mrs Cornelius-Reid leaves daughters Rosemary, 53 and Naomi, 33, and son David, 50, who are all involved in running the business.

Her funeral takes place on Friday at 1pm at the Church of St Mary and St Melor, Amesbury.