Patsy Robertson: a tribute

Posted by Nigel Baker

The passing of Patsy Robertson at 86 has deprived the Thomson Foundation of a loyal supporter and devoted advocate in the Commonwealth.

Patsy resigned as a long-time trustee in 2013, but still kept the interests of the foundation at heart.

She was immensely proud of the fact that the foundation could claim it had trained journalists from all 54 countries of the Commonwealth during its 60-year history.

But her overriding concern was that journalists across the Commonwealth received the skills they needed to promote free expression and hold governments to account.

Patsy was a true friend of the Thomson Foundation.

Mark Knight, deputy chairman Thomson Foundation

Patsy was born in Jamaica where her passion for the power of journalism began. After university in New York, she returned home to become a reporter on the Jamaica Gleaner in the late 1950s.

Jamaican independence in 1962 offered her the opportunity to join the newly-established Jamaican High Commission in London as an information officer. Three years later she was recruited to the new Commonwealth Secretariat by Arnold Smith, the Canadian diplomat who became the first secretary-general.

She went on to serve two more secretaries-general – most notably Sir Shridath (Sonny) Ramphal, from 1975 to 1990, the former foreign minister of Guyana.

Together they isolated Margaret Thatcher’s support for apartheid in South Africa – with the Commonwealth eventually successfully calling for the release of Nelson Mandela, for the ANC to be unbanned and free elections to be held.

Patsy was the lynchpin of the Commonwealth campaign, organising discreet briefings to a network of journalists and politicians in stark contrast to the tactics of Mrs Thatcher’s pugnacious spokesperson, Bernard Ingham.

UN commitment

After retiring as director of information for the Commonwealth in 1994, she turned her formidable media skills to use at the UN.  She was senior adviser for the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, helping to highlight topics from women’s leadership roles to women’s poverty and the status of widows. She did it again for children in 2001 as senior adviser for UNICEF at a UN special session on children.

In later years, Patsy maintained a lively interest in her twin loves of the Commonwealth and journalism as chair of the trustees of the Ramphal Institute, the Commonwealth Association, and as a trustee of the Thomson Foundation and the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust.

Patsy was remarkable proof that charm and integrity are the best weapons to win hearts and minds.

Nigel Baker, chief executive, Thomson Foundation.
Passionate supporter of journalists in the Commonwealth

The Thomson Foundation’s deputy chairman, Mark Knight, said: "Patsy was a true friend of the Thomson Foundation, a loyal supporter over many years, who pursued her role as trustee with unwavering commitment and diligence. She never missed a meeting, could always be counted on, and brought us a wealth of knowledge and experience, especially with the Commonwealth.​"

Nigel Baker, the foundation’s chief executive, said: “Patsy was remarkable proof that charm and integrity are the best weapons to win hearts and minds. She had both in abundance.

“She remained a passionate supporter of journalists in the Commonwealth, always seeking ways to improve their skills and conditions, particularly in developing countries. She will be greatly missed.”

Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Chief Executive

About: Nigel has overall responsibility for the delivery of the foundation’s programmes and budgets, as well as advising its board of trustees on strategy. His background is in the news industry, both as a journalist and as a manager of international news agencies.

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