Tributes have poured in from politicians to literary greats to remember historian Richard Pankhurst, who died at the age of 89 after pneumonia on Thursday. Professor Richard Pankhurst was the founder and first Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University, and for ten years the Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. He had lived in Ethiopia for five decades and had devoted the greater part of his life to the study of Ethiopian history and culture, and had written extensively on the subject, including many articles for the magazine of Ethiopian Airlines Selamta, for newspapers such as the Ethiopian Herald, the defunct Addis Tribune and the Capital newspaper.
Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Workneh Gebeyehu was among the first politicians to pay tribute to Richard Pankhurst and offered his “profound sympathy to Mrs. Rita Pankhurst, to his children, Helen and Alula, and to all his family, friends and colleagues.”
Elias Wondimu of Tsehay Publisher, who published “Sylvia Pankhurst counsel for Ethiopia” and “Ethiopian Reminiscences: Early Days” described Richard Pankhurst as “a great scholar, humanist and champion of Ethiopia’s history and her people.” Writing on his Facebook page, Elias highlighted Prof. Richard Pankhurst’s role in the many books he authored, the institutions he established, the valiant fight he waged against the Italian and British governments to repatriate stolen heritages and many students he mentored and taught. “On a more personal note, he was my hero, mentor and collaborator for my entire adult life. Without his answers to my questions, encouraging advises and guidance when I needed them the most, I will not have become the man I am today. He will be missed dearly,” Elias added.
“He was the kind of academic who shares his work without hesitation, rather than jealously hiding it, and tries to help younger and more ignorant researchers (like me). He wore his famous name lightly and he had a rich, giggly sense of humour,” Michela Wrong, famous British journalist and author of “I Didn’t Do It for You” wrote on her Facebook page.
“His work still guides and inspires me. I was so in awe of Richard Pankhurst, I was afraid to reach out and ask if I could meet him. I was intimidated. A lesson learned. Reach out,” author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, Maaza Mengiste,
Most tributes made references to Richard’s mother, Sylvia Pankhurst, who cemented Richard’s fascination with the culture and languages of Ethiopia. Sylvia was a British artist, suffragette, anti-fascist, and friend of Ethiopia who was engaged in efforts to remove fascist Italian rules from Ethiopia in the 1930s. She moved to Addis Ababa in 1956, bringing her son, Richard and soon to be daughter-in-law, Rita. Richard had grown to learn about Ethiopia by reading-and later contributing to New Times and Ethiopian News that his mother ran from 1936 to 1956 and later a monthly journal, Ethiopia Observer. “Dear Professor Richard Pankhurst (son of Sylvia) The Great Ethiopian has passed. Love to the family one & all,” an award-winning playwright and popular broadcaster in the UK, Lemin Sissay wrote.
“A scholar, a historian and a loyal friend. We will forever remain grateful to your service for our country. Your love for Ethiopia will always be in our hearts. May you rest in peace, Sir,” Ethiopian pop singer Teddy Afro said.
“In Canada, I went through a period of identity crisis. The books & essays by Richard Pankhurst inspired me to discover & cherish my heritage,” Tseday Mekibb tweeted. “No other historian has had an effect on shaping me to be a confident and proud Ethiopian. I returned home because of the knowledge I gained,” she added.
Anglo-Ethiopian Society in London wrote that “The Society is sad to hear of the death of its longstanding member, Dr Richard Pankhurst. A kind, gentle and very knowledgable man,” it said.
Previous articles on the Ethiopia Observer
Prof. Andreas Esheté on Richard and Rita Pankhurst
Richard Pankhurst in his Twilight Years
My Long Friendship With Richard and Rita Pankhurst