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Sr Pamela: lifelong campaigner for justice and peace

Sr Pamela Hussey who has died aged 99

SourceLAB

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Sr Pamela Hussey, who died aged 99 on 13 December 2021, was known to many of the older generation of LAB friends and supporters. She was a tireless and courageous campaigner for justice and peace with a detailed knowledge of Latin America and especially of El Salvador.

The former director of CIIR, Ian Linden, writes: ‘The first time I met Pamela was in 1981 when she became a volunteer administrative assistant in the Latin America department of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) where I had also just started working.

‘It was a critical and intense period in the Cold War. Dictatorships and oligarchies, backed by the CIA, ruled many of the Latin American States with appalling human rights violations as a consequence. Pamela gravitated to the El Salvador desk at CIIR, making several field trips, sharing the department’s admiration for the Archbishop of San Salvador, St Oscar Romero, his courage, work for justice and his theology and after his assassination publicising his life.

‘Pamela had the advantage of looking frail and conservative when she wasn’t. She was the scourge of US Foreign Service personnel who were entirely unprepared for the passion and anger of this diminutive and well-spoken woman when they tried to defend the indefensible.’

LAB editor Mike Gatehouse adds: ‘In the 1980s I was working for the El Salvador Committee for Human Rights. We took a delegation, including Sr Pamela, to the US Embassy in London to draw attention to the flagrant violations of human rights at the time. The diplomats (including, by chance, Elliott Abrams, US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, on a visit to London from Washington), tried to convince us that El Salvador’s problems were entirely due to the FMLN guerrillas and showed us grainy and indistinct aerial photographs, supposedly showing arms being shipped from Nicaragua in canoes, across the Gulf of Fonseca. ‘I wonder how many weapons you can fit into a canoe?’ observed Pamela drily.

‘Pamela was a feminist,’ continued Ian Linden. ‘Books she wrote, Freedom From Fear: Women in El Salvador’s Church, with [her Quaker colleague] Marigold Best, Life Out of Death, the Feminine Spirit in El Salvador and Women Making a Difference bear witness to that. She felt deeply the betrayal of women who had fought against the Latin American dictatorships and who were expected after victory to return to traditional roles. Her life offered yet another example of the extraordinary range of Women Religious’ gifts to the Church. Her death brings down the curtain on a period when the witness of many Women Religious was within the struggle for liberation against tyranny, justice against repression, life against death.’

‘Born of English parents in Argentina,’ writes CAFOD’s Clare Dixon, ‘Pamela always said that she felt that hers might be described as a life of two halves or, more accurately, of two continents, Latin America and Europe. In 1942, at the age of twenty, Pamela quit her job at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires… She decided – at the height of World War II – to undertake the perilous journey across the Atlantic. She set sail for Britain to join the WRNs and ‘do her bit’ for the war effort, jokingly downplaying her decision years later by saying, “I only joined for the hat!” But it was a hazardous voyage from South America to Britain and the vessels immediately ahead of and behind Pamela’s ship were sunk by U-Boats.  On arrival in Britain Pamela enrolled in the Royal Navy and was sent to the Irton Moor listening post, now GCHQ Scarborough, as a WRNS Wireless Telegraphist special operator in Signals Intelligence.

‘Pamela and her colleagues would transcribe German communications sent in Enigma-encrypted code, which was then passed to a mysterious ‘Station X’, now known as Bletchley Park.  Pamela’s role in the war effort was recognised by the French Government in 2018 when she was awarded the French President’s highest order of merit, the Légion d’Honneur.  

Sr Pamela Hussey Latin america bureau

After the war and a spell back in Argentina, she returned to Britain and developed her religious vocation. After working as a teacher, she became an active campaigner for Justice and Peace, moving as a permanent volunteer to CIIR, after the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador in 1980. There, as Clare Dixon recounts, ‘for the next 25 years … Pamela devoted her energies to the cause of the poor throughout Central America but especially found her calling in El Salvador, traveling frequently to the country to learn how best to provide support and encouragement to CIIR’s key friends and allies there.  She became an eloquent advocate and ambassador for the Church in El Salvador, fostering particularly close relationships with the religious and missionary congregations, the Jesuits, Franciscans and Poor Clares.’

Journalist Stephen May recalls meeting Pamela in San Salvador: ‘She was moving between orphanages in the city, San Salvador, and the relatives of those kids within the “war zones”. By doing so she put herself firmly on the death squad hit list.  Three nuns had been murdered just a few months before I met her.  She showed no concern for her own safety – she knew that kids needed to be fed, concerned relatives informed and that there should be witnesses to what was going on.’ 

Many who have been involved in solidarity and human rights work for Latin America will remember with respect and gratitude Sr Pamela’s courageous, wise, quiet yet powerful voice.


Ian Linden’s obituary of Sr Pamela was published by Independent Catholic News. Clare Dixon’s tribute was written for the Romero Trust, of which Sr Pamela was a founding member.

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