It is with deep sorrow that the ESFNA Executive Committee, Board Members, and community at large mourn the passing of Dr. Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst, OBE (Order of the British Empire) on February 16, 2017.
Dr. Pankhurst was born in 1927 to his father Silvio Corio, an Italian anarchist, and his mother, Sylvia Pankhurst, a suffragette and long time champion of women’s rights.
An avid fan of Ethiopian culture, and an active supporter of its independence following the Italian invasion of 1935, Pankhurst’s mother Sylvia was a close friend of Emperor Haile Selassie and published Ethiopia: A Cultural History in 1955. The following year she moved to Ethiopia with her son Richard, who likewise grew to love Ethiopia and its culture.
Dr. Pankhurst would go on to become a professor at the University of Addis Ababa, and in 1962 he was the founding director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, dedicated to research in all fields relating to Ethiopia. He also edited the Journal of Ethiopian Studies and the Ethiopia Observer, and grew to become a world renown historian and expert of Ethiopian studies, writing over 20 books on Ethiopian culture, history and even economics.
In 1976, following the death of Emperor Haile Selassie and the start of the Ethiopian Civil War, Dr. Pankhurst left the Institute and his professorship at the University of Addis Ababa in order to return to England, where he became a research fellow with the School of Oriental and African Studies and the London School of Economics. It was during this time in London that he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the British government, which cited his services to Ethiopian studies as their reason for bestowing the prestigious award. In 1986, he returned to Ethiopia, where he resumed his work at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Most recently, in 2008 Dr. Pankhurst led the campaign for the return of the Obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia, where it was re-erected. For these efforts, he was awarded the honorary title of “Dejazmach Bankirew”.
For many of us here at ESFNA, we fondly remember Dr. Pankhurst from his visit in 2006 as our Guest of Honor in Los Angeles. We were amazed by his kindness and humility, and touched by his gentle spirit as he engaged with our many visitors at the L.A. Coliseum, particularly around our vending area. Indeed, we feel incredibly fortunate that we had the opportunity to use our platform to recognize such an amazing contributor to Ethiopian studies while he was alive.
Dr. Pankhurst is survived by his two children: daughter Helen Pankhurst, and son Alula Pankhurst, with whom he has collaborated on at least one book. His children share his love for Ethiopia, as Helen currently works as Care International’s senior advisor for the UK and Ethiopia, and Alula serves as a social development consultant for Ethiopia, teaching anthropology at Addis Ababa University and serving as country director for Young Lives, an international research project on child poverty.
Dr. Pankhurst was not only a friend to ESFNA, but a friend to all Ethiopians around the world. May his soul rest in peace.