Friday 31 May 2019

Academic and activist Rita Pankhurst passed away on 30 May at her home in Addis Ababa, aged 92. Her funeral was held on 4 June in Kiddist Selassie Menbere Tsebaot Church cemetery, Trinity Cathedral, where Rita’s late husband Richard Pankhurst OBE (1927-2017) and her mother-in-law Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) rest. During the funeral ceremony, the British Council representatives laid a wreath of flower to honour her memory.

Rita, just as much as her life-time partner and spouse, Richard Pankhurst, was an ambassadress for both UK and Ethiopia. She was a librarian by profession, and she was the director of the University library of the then Haile Selassie I University from 1964-75. Rita also is notable for her advocacy of women’s rights, her numerous involvements in voluntary and non-government organisations and her published articles on the role of women in Ethiopia. 

The writer of this article had the honour of meeting Rita and Richard Pankhurst some years back during an interview. During that time, it was more than clear that Rita was an expert in Ethiopian studies and a backbone to all of Richard’s works. As the saying goes, ‘Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.’ And, surely, ‘Behind every great woman, there’s a great man.’ 

Our deepest sympathies go out to the friends and family members of the Pankhurst’s.