In Memoriam

Professor Richard Pankhurst with a model of an Axum stele

Richard Pankhurst “Champion of Ethiopian culture” ( December 3, 1927-February 16, 2017)

It is rare that an expatriate is held in as high esteem in a country as have members of the Pankhurst family been held in Ethiopia. It is with great sorrow that the world learned of the passing of Richard Pankhurst, of Great Britain, on February 16, 2017 in Addis Ababa at the age of 89. Richard Pankhurst was the son of famed suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst, a hero to Ethiopia in her own right and who received a full state funeral in Ethiopia at the time of her death.

Richard Pankhurst is a noted scholar, having written more than twenty books on Ethiopia. He taught at Addis Ababa University, then known as the University College of Addis Ababa, and was a founding director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in 1962.  During his career he edited the Journal of Ethiopian Studies and the Ethiopia Observer.

Of great significance was his advocacy for the return cultural artefacts taken by British troops in 1868 and the 1,700 year-old obelisk taken from Axum by Mussolini’s forces. The Obelisk of Axum stood in the Piazza de Porta Capena in Rome until 2005.  It was returned and re-erected in Axum in 2008 and both Pankhurst and his wife Rita were in attendance for the dedication.

U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia posted on Facebook:

The U.S. Embassy mourns the loss of the great scholar of Ethiopian history, Richard Pankhurst. Dr. Pankhurst was a renowned and highly respected scholar who was a founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and former professor at the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. His long standing and dedicated study of Ethiopian history had a profound impact on the study and understanding of Ethiopia, and is an example for others to follow. We honor his life and work and offer our deep condolences to his family and close friends.

Followers of the Facebook post and others paid tribute: “a hero,” “a son of Ethiopia,” and “one of Ethiopia’s greatest friends.”

Our colleagues posted on the E&E RPCV Facebook or in emails:

  • James Gage: He was a fine man and tireless friend of Ethiopia.
  • Paul Doherty: I worked for Dr. Pankhurst at Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa during the summer of 1969 between my two years in Ethiopia. I recall him as soft-spoken and scholarly and very much a gentleman.
  • Sandra Tychsen: In 2013, my daughter and I (who is writing a dissertation on the Peace Corps in East Africa), were invited for tea with Dr. Pankhurst and his wife Rita. We were daunted and honoured. Despite advanced illness, he conveyed kindness and erudition. Dr. Pankhurst, who could barely speak, tried very nicely, twinkling, to sort out a confused conversation between his wife and me — an absurd misunderstanding about leopards vs. lepers in Addis in the ’60s.
  • Gerry Jones: While his recent years have been difficult with health issues, that is dwarfed by his enormous contribution over the years. . . . My wife and I saw him just a week ago at the launch of the “wide 20” book (“Change and Transformation in Twenty Rural Communities in Ethiopia” edited by his son, Alula.

An extensive reflection on Dr. Pankhurst by Phillip LeBel (Emdeber 1964–67) may be found in the elsewhere in this issue.

Our condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.


Gerald R. Jones (Dessie, Debre Berhan 1967–71, 1972) attended the funeral of Richard Pankhurst at Saint Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa and related the following:

Went to the Pankhurst funeral on Tuesday, February 21st. Regretfully photos were not possible from where I was sitting.

It was a grand send off. We (family, friends, admirers) were seated under awnings set up on the steps of the grand Trinity Cathedral.The coffin was processed into the Churchyard behind a military band playing the “dies irae” and accompanied by old warriors from the Patriots’ Association. Richard’s grave site is next to his mother, Sylvia, which is in a very prominent location in front of the entrance to the Cathedral.

The service was conducted by the Patriarch himself (HH Abune Matthias) with many prayers and blessings offered by a bevy of bishops and clergy. President Teshome Mulatu was in attendance, as was a large number of professors and staff from Addis Ababa University, representatives of civil society and many ordinary citizens who appreciated Richard’s devotion to Ethiopia.

The British Ambassador and several ranking Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia officials spoke. Richard’s son, Alula Pankhurst, spoke (in his flawless Amharic) in tribute to his father.

Richard came to Ethiopia in 1956 as a professor of economic history. In addition to his founding and leading the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at AAU for many years, Richard authored approximately 25 books on Ethiopia and hundreds of articles; he also founded “The Association for the Restoration of the Magdela Treasures (books, artifacts, sacred tabots stolen during the British incursion against Teodros) and was instrumental in securing the return of the Axum obelisk that had been taken to Rome during the Occupation.

Throughout the funeral, Richard’s widow, Rita, was supported by their children Alula and Helen.

There is a nice little book done by Richard and Rita Ethiopian Reminiscences, Early Days. It is a good picture of their life in Addis Ababa in those days.

If any E&E readers are in Addis Ababa, they might want to visit the historic Trinity Cathedral Churchyard. It is choc-a-bloc with historical personages. Emperor Haile Selassie and his family are entombed inside the Cathedral (as is the custom for Emperors); former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is buried here (for the moment, though his own  mausoleum is under construction out in Gulele); the 68 members of the Imperial government who were executed in Nov 1974 at the beginning of the Revolution are buried in a single grave with a striking and simple modern style monument; singer Tilahun Gessese, novelist Sibihat Gebre Egziabher are also there. The whole place is a monument to modern Ethiopian history!

Wendell Brooks, Makelle 1962-64, Ethiopia I

Julian Brooks, son of Wendell Brooks (Makelle, 1962-64) brought to The Herald’s attention that his father passed away in 2012.

Wendell singing

After graduation from Whittier College (Whittier, CA), Wendell served in the Peace Corps in Makelle,Ethiopia, lived in Europe, earning his Master’s Degree from Uppsala University in Sweden, and returned to the United States in 1971. For the rest of his life he taught primarily at California State University East Bay, Berkeley High School, and Holy Names University. Wendell was in the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Ethiopia.

A tribute to his life may be viewed on this obituary. He was indeed an educator, singer, and citizen of the world.

Douglas J McKelvey (Ghion 66– 68); October 13, 2013

Doug was born in Aurora, IL, to James and Henrietta McKelvey. He graduated from high school, went off to Cornell College (IA), where he met and married his wife Susan. Doug and Susan volunteered as teachers for the Peace Corps in Ethiopia for two years before returning to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa.  Doug then taught at North Carolina A&T before joining the U.S. Department of Transportation, retiring after over 30 years.

Herbert Siegel

Herbert Siegel

Herb Siegel (Addis Ababa 62–64) August 16, 2016

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he moved to California after high school. He met his wife, Suzanne, on a blind date at UC Berkeley summer session, and they have been best friends for 56 years. As soon as he graduated from UC Berkeley as a math major in 1962, he and Suzanne joined the Peace Corps, serving as teachers in Ethiopia for two years. Returning to the United States, he obtained a M.A. in math and started his 40-year career as a computer programmer.

Maura T. Smith

Maura T. Smith

Maura Smith (Addis Ababa 62-64), January 3, 2017

Maura unselfishly served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia during the Kennedy Administration.



Ty Vignone

Ty Vignone

Ty Vignone (Asmara, Eritrea 1962-64), 2016

Ty was born in E. Longmeadow, MA in 1937. He was the son of the late Daniel and Marion and the brother of Tim.  Prior to his 51-year career as a teacher, he served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1964. Ty began teaching at Day Junior High School in Newton in 1965. He moved to Newton North High School in 1983, and taught there until this year. Ty instituted two programs for students that were often life-changing. One was the Close-Up Program, when he and his students would spend the week in Washington, D.C. learning about the government first hand. In recognition of his tenure and his dedication to teaching students about government, Ty was recognized by both Joe Kennedy, III and Elizabeth Warren.  Ty made life-long friends with many co-workers in the Peace Corps and fellow skiers. He was an inspiration to his fellow teachers.

Will G. Hall

Will G. Hall

Will G. Hall    (Dire Dawa, Addis Ababa 1962-65) January 3, 2017

He was born on August 17, 1940, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of Pastor Willie Hall and Virginia (Ashworth) Hall. Will and his four siblings grew up in Morehead City on the North Carolina coast, where he developed a lifelong love for the ocean and fried fish. Following graduation from North Carolina Central College in 1962, Will became one of the founding members of the Peace Corps and was in the first group of Volunteers sent to Ethiopia.


John Timmons

John Timmons,  (Asbe Teferi 1964-67)    June 2, 2016

Born December 21, 1942 in Chillicothe, John was a native of Clarksburg, and attended Clarksburg schools, graduating from Clarksburg High School in 1960. After graduating from Marietta College in 1964, he served in the Peace Corps until 1967, teaching school in Asbe Tefari, Ethopia. While there he was able to travel throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. In 1965 he traveled to Tanzania and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro after a three day climb.Following his return from Ethiopia, John taught school in the Columbus Public Schools for several years and enrolled in graduate studies at the Ohio State University.




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