Ann Hamilton was the godmother of my wife, who heped look after her and her brother after their mother died when they were infants. I put together this tribute to her, which was printed and distributed at the requiem mass held for her at St Anthony’s church in Rye on September 27th. It brings together reflections from close friends, family and colleagues, with other material published about her. It hopes to provide a flavour of the esteem in which she was held, her impact on the lives of those she came into contact, and just as importantly how she was much loved. A short biographical sketch below has also been included about aspects of Anne’s life not covered in the reflections and other material.
Ann Hamilton was born in London on 17th April 1931 to Eustace Edgar Herbert Hamilton-Jackson and Lydia ‘Catherine’ Margaret (née Wickham). Her early life appears to have involved being constantly on the move, including attending 17 schools before going to university.
During the WW2 her family’s house in Bath was bombed and all their possession were burned in the subsequent fire. Her brother went into the burning house to rescue her teddy bear that remained by her bedside for the rest of her life.
According to her god-daughter Bridget Pettitt, Ann always regretted not having suggested he get some of his possessions as well as hers – an early example of putting the interest of others ahead of hers.
By this time she had read all of the works of Shakespeare, but it was her excellent French that would help get her a place at St Anne’s Oxford University in late 1949. This would also stand her in good stead in later life when visiting France and other French speaking countries as part of her international coordinator role of the Dominican Secular Institute group she joined in 1990 (one reason for her dual language answering machine message).
That is possibly why she matriculated to read Modern Languages, but halfway through her second term at Oxford Ann switched to read English. Like many studying at women’s colleges in this era, she would have been tutored by Fellows all over Oxford. In Ann’s case, these included both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis whose literature was shaped by their Christianity. Lewis also sent Ann a
Christmas card congratulating her for having passed her degree.
After Oxford, she studied Prehistoric Archaeology at Cambridge for a post-graduate diploma, and various sources show she spent seasons of archaeological excavations in Greece, Jordon, Malta, Syria and the UK.
As mentioned in the tribute in The Tablet and other testimonials, Ann had worked as a civil servant, Justice of the Peace, as well as becoming International President of a lay, but consecrated, group of Dominican women.
Ann was engaged with a long list of volunteering work for ecumenical, environment, social justice and other causes. She was not shy of getting engaged in politics, writing regularly to her MPs, attending marches well into her 80s, and an active supporter of the Liberal Democrats.
Over the course of her working life, Ann had turned her hand to many other roles including tourism and fundraising before moving to Rye in the mid-70s – where she would live in several locations including Church Square, Hucksteps Row (with her mother), Eagle Road, Lion Street and finally Hylands Yards.
Not only did she run a Christian bookshop in Lion Street (River Books), where Alake her parrot became a feature, but also worked for the Rye Museum and as a waitress at Fletcher’s House.
Around a decade ago Ann re-connected with her older half-sister Juanita (a.k.a. Bunty) who lives in Canada. Ann and Bunty had briefly been in touch in the late 50s after their father’s death, but correspondence was through a solicitor and they lost touch shortly after.
In 2005, two of Bunty’s good friends (Michele LeBoldus and Bruce Elliott) undertook a fact finding mission to uncover the story of her father. Their detective work uncovered a wealth of previously unknown information including
Eustice’s subsequent marriage to Ann’s mother (Catherine), the birth of Ann and eventually also the birth of Ann’s brother. It wasn’t until 6 years later that Bruce and Michele managed to track down Ann and check that she was the ‘right’ Ann Hamilton. The official confirmation came from Ann on April 18, 2011 – the day after Ann’s 80th birthday and a month ahead of Bunty’s 95th.
They met in person for the first time in October 2011 and, according to Ann’s niece Daphne, they seemed to “click” from the moment Ann stepped off the plane!
Finally getting to meet her older sister and nieces bought Ann much joy. Likewise, Ann’s nieces Constance, Meg and Daphne cherish that they have had the past 10 years of knowing Ann and been able to meet-up with their aunt on several occasions during those years despite the distance.
Ann died peacefully on 1st September 2021, and is survived by her older sister Bunty, her 3 nieces (Constance, Meg and Daphne), and her god-children (Bridget Pettitt, Adam Pettitt, Emma Sobczak Schell and Luke Vines).
Tribute: The Tablet
Ann Hamilton Tribute Digital
Tribute: The Tablet
This obituary of Ann was published on the website of The Tablet on 28th September 2021 (see here), a shorter version is in the Word from the Cloisters column in the issue of 25 September.
The simplest of lives sometimes leaves the greatest impression.
Ann Hamilton, who died peacefully on 1 September, aged 90, had lived quietly alone in Rye since arriving there in the mid-1970s. An outpouring of affection has followed the news of her death.
“Ann always saw and looked for the best in people and was always very quick to listen, giving her time and energy without reservation,” Simon South, a permanent deacon who lives in Rye, remembered. “One of the things that was so inspirational about her was her complete dedication to actively living the Gospels in her day to day life.”
As a girl she had lived in Oxford with her mother and attended Mass at Blackfriars. She read English at St Anne’s, where she was tutored by both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. She then studied Archaeology at Cambridge, and as a young woman in the early 1950s, went on digs in Syria and Jordan. She joined the Foreign Office, serving in the Ministry of Defence; including a tour of duty on secondment to the British High Commission in Lagos,
Nigeria, during the Biafran War. She became godmother to the daughter of a British diplomat. When the child was two years old, her mother died of cancer, and Hamilton gave up her career to help look after her and her brother for four years – taking a close interest in their lives for the rest of hers. It was a striking example of how she put the interests of those in need before her own.
She moved to Rye in the mid-70s, where she fully immersed herself in the life of the parish of St Anthony of Padua and the broader community. She noticed that the vicar of Rye was saying daily evensong in the parish church by himself, so she decided to join him. She became a devoted member of Churches Together in Rye, which she continued to support in various ways right up to the end of her life. She ran a Christian bookshop in Lion Street, which became a great supporter of Traidcraft goods and a favourite pit stop for locals.
She led Lectio Divina sessions and attended ecumenical Julian Meetings right up to her death. In 2010 she was awarded the Benemerenti Medal papal medal by Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of her long and exceptional service to the parish. It was presented by Bishop Kieran Conry at a Mass held in the church of St Anthony.
Her voluntary work included helping the elderly, the handicapped and alcoholics. She was a volunteer for CAFOD and Traidcraft, who she helped lead the move for Rye to become a Fairtrade Town. Well into her eighties, she could be still found joining marches for climate justice, for which she was an early and persistent advocate and practitioner. She was appointed a Justice of the Peace for East Sussex in 1986 and served for 8 years.
Ann took her final vows as a member of the Dominican Secular Institute of Orleans in 1990 but was soon called upon to be International Moderator of the Institute. In her late seventies and eighties, she was still travelling to France, Africa and Haiti visiting and supporting local Institute members. “She was full of fun, charming, very ‘English’, witty and a great conversationalist, but an even better listener,” said her friend and fellow lay Dominican Janet Wiltshire.
“Ann would always stop and speak, or spend time with those who were lost, lonely or in need. Ann had the most wonderful and innocent laugh. For her, Christianity was built on the ‘good news’ and should be celebrated with joy and hope. She led a very ascetic lifestyle and was never extravagant or self indulgent, always putting the needs and thoughts of others ahead of her own and encouraging others to do the same,” Simon South remembered.
On leaving one of the numerous prayer meetings she ran and attended, she was mugged and had her briefcase stolen. The police were duly called and she provided a list of its contents. After a brief pause, she added, “Oh, and also The Tablet,” prompting the young officer to ask, “Which make of tablet was that madam?” to which she replied, “Oh, no, the Tablet, the Catholic newspaper.”
Ann Hamilton lived simply and well; it was a life of prayer, friendship, service and joy.
Testimonial: Simon South
Ann’s reading of English at Oxford and Archaeology later at Cambridge, is a glorious example of just how amazing she was as a young woman. She also went on digs in Syria and the Jordan (which when you consider this would have been in the early 1950’s and its gender driven culture, was truly amazing !). As well as the Med, Ann was quit happy up to her elbows in mud and rain, in fields around the UK looking at Neolithic sites.
Her time in Africa was something she was humble about and didn’t share very much except for the relationship she built with the parent of her god-daughter Bridget and her brother Adam, which was very important and dear to her. I do know, however, that her experience in Africa was very formative and important in her life and her faith.
Ann was extremely active in Rye, and one of reason why she was so inspirational was her complete dedication to actively living the Gospels in her day to day life. She always saw and looked for the best in all people and was always very quick to listen to other people giving her time and energy without reservation. At the same time, she would also share her wonderful and gentle sense of fun and happiness with those around her.
I particularly remember her most wonderful and innocent laugh, and also how she was a great advocate for remembering that the
Christian Church was built on the “good news” and that this should be celebrated with joy and hope.
Having taken her consecrated vows, she fully offered her life to God. She led a very ascetic lifestyle and was never extravagant or self indulgent, always putting the needs and thoughts of others ahead of her own and encouraging others to do the same (the Fairtrade movement being a great example )
Ann had the most amazing energy levels throughout the time I knew her (through her late seventies and eighties). During this time (the last fifteen years) she was still travelling to France, Africa Poland and Haiti visiting and encouraging her Dominican sisters.
My understanding was that Ann was a senior member of the lay Dominican community and was the liaison between the lay community and the Diocese or Arundel and Brighton. She was a founding member of the Julian of Norwich Ecumenical prayer group and the Street Pastors. Even as Ann became less capable of physically walking the Streets with the Pastors, she would hold an all night prayer Vigil for the protection of the Pastors and those who needed their support (she was in her late 80’s at this point).
She was so committed to sharing the Gospel to as many people as she could. Supporting many Parish Priests over the years in Rye to teach people ( including myself ) about the Catholic Faith and preparing them to join the Church. She wanted to share the love and depth of relationship which she had with Christ with the wider population. One of the most important aspects of her faith was the Ecumenical movement. She was a devoted and leading
member of the “Churches Together” movement in Rye and was always at the heart of all activity, prayer and evangelism. Ann was a great advocate for the points of unity amongst the Christian Churches rather than the differences.
Ann had a strong empathy and respect for the essence of human dignity of all those around her and would always stop and speak, or spend time with those who were lost, lonely or in need. She was very active in the Social Justice Forum across the Diocese.
I know Ann was very excited about having a half sister – especially as her half sister was older that her.
I also know how immensely important her god-children and family were to her; she would often talk about them all with such love and devotion.
Simon South: Deacon for Diocese of Arundel who lives in Rye
Testimonial: Janet Wiltshire
Ann was a member of the Dominican Secular Institute of Orleans, part of the Dominican Family. Secular Institutes are for people who feel called to consecration but also to living in their own homes serving the Church and those around them. This Ann certainly did.
Having taken her vows of Consecration she was committed to saying the daily Prayer of the Church which she recited faithfully to the end, and to daily mass, on livestream during the pandemic. Ann loved the annual Institute retreat because it was based on scripture study which she knew so well, her contributions always profound and to the point. In her parish in Rye she led Lectio Divina sessions over the years and attended ecumenical Julian Meetings of silent prayer right up to her death.
Ann enjoyed living in Rye which she did for many years and joined in the Christian life of the town, running a Christian bookshop for many years and as a committed ecumenist, organizing and participating in many ecumenical services and activities in that place. She was passionate about Fair Trade and ran a stall for this at any possible opportunity. Her other great cause was the environment for which she was an early and persistent advocate and practitioner.
Ann only took her final vows in the Institute in 1990 but was soon called upon to be Moderator of the English group of the Institute where she organised study weekends and retreats for the members’ formation as lay participants in the Church, in which she firmly believed. In 2003 she was elected as
International Moderator and then her duties expanded to include travel more than once to the other Provinces of the Institute in Poland, Ivory Coast, The People’s Democratic Republic of The Congo, Haiti, Vietnam, Belgium and of course France where the Institute was founded in the 1880s.
In each of these countries she was greatly loved and appreciated by the members many of whom lived in very difficult circumstances. She corresponded with them individually and this correspondence and her other Institute papers are now in the University of Durham where many Catholic archives are now being collected.
Above all Ann is to be remembered for her personal qualities. She was full of fun, charming, very “English”, witty and a great conversationalist, but an even better listener, whose interest in the concerns of each person she encountered was genuine and real. Her advice and insights into human situations were always worth having. Those of us who had the joy of knowing her give thanks for her life and her friendship.
Janet Wiltshire: friend an fellow member of the Dominican Secular Institute of Orleans
Ann volunteered with us as a parish volunteer from 2015 until December 2018. She was involved in attending CAFOD briefing meetings in her deanery in order to promote Harvest and Lent Family Fast Days. She would have liaised
with her priest, given a short talk about the appeal during Mass twice a year, arranged for information to be made available about the appeal such as putting information in newsletters, giving out collection envelopes and putting up posters. She also was a Campaign Advocate and was actively involved in promoting the CAFOD campaigns at the time including liaising with her MP. She regularly made donations to help support CAFOD’s work. Ann was a delightful person and was highly regarded by members of the CAFOD staff and volunteers within her deanery. She was always willing to go the extra mile and was one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. In every way, she was an exemplary volunteer and we are indebted to her for her invaluable support and kindness. May she rest in peace.
Written by Jenny Finlayson, CAFOD Community Participation Coordinator for Arundel and Brighton (13th September, 2021).
There’s also an interview with Ann from 2018 about her volunteering work for CAFOD you can read here
Tributes: Rye News
The selected comments below were posted in response to the announcement by Kenneth Bird about Ann passing away on the Rye News website on 9th September 2021 (see here):
Canon David Frost: Ann Hamilton will be missed so much by the Christian community in Rye. When I first arrived in 1990 she ran a Christian bookshop in Lion Street, and even when I returned to the town in 2010, she was still very much involved, not only in St Anthony’s but across the churches.
Ann was a convinced Roman Catholic but this did not stop her from having a broader ecumenical vision. This vision was seen in the part she played in Churches Together in Rye and District, which she continued to support in various ways right up to the end of her life.
Ann Hamilton was a lovely Christian lady who spent her life serving others. The Christian community in Rye will be all the poorer now she has gone.
May she rest in peace.
Martin Wimbush: Dear Ann, I remember her so well – she was part of our church discussion group and always came up with the most interesting and thoughtful ideas – and again a great supporter of the shows I did at the Festival. I wish I could attend her funeral, but I have to go to London
that day, to perform in a tribute to a great friend of mine, so I shall think of you all and pray for her. Martin Wimbush
Jill Halpin: First knew of Ann who as a girl lived in Oxford with her mother and attended Mass at Blackfriars and got to know my dear friends the Miskins.
In Rye her bookshop in Lion street was a great supporter of Traidcraft crafts and goods. It was also a stopping off point for many to have a chat and a cup of tea or coffee.
I remember her supporting David Maundrell, then vicar of Rye, who found it quite lonely saying daily evensong by himself, so Ann joined him in this everyday she was in Rye. She enjoyed her archeaological digs in remote parts of the world!
I remember her researching to find a Greek edition of the New Testament for a member of St. Marys Church. This was well before the digital age!
Ann was an interesting mix of old fashioned Catholicism and coming to terms with modern theology and thinking which can be difficult. I think it is fair to say she was uncompromising her views!
I gather one of her last activities was distributing home made cakes outside St. Anthony’s for people coming out of Mass on a Sunday morning?
The loss of another notable character of Rye.
Mags Ivatts: Ann was one of the most amazing and inspirational people I have ever met. She was also very private and humble. Since her death there is a flurry of interest about her life among the Catholic national press and I’ve learned what a distinguished person she was. I only met her 5 years ago she was incredibly energised then and introduced me to much that has been useful to me. She was an Anam Cara to me and many others. Ann organised her funeral and said it was going to be so beautiful she wanted to be there and invited us all for 18 September. She is so loved and it was a privilege to know her.
Pace et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Barrie Wright: I first met Ann in 2011 when I joined the Rye Julian Prayer Meeting, which she lead. Very quickly I realised what an amazing woman she was, and in true Christian commitment, she was so welcoming and generous to everyone. In 2015 Ann asked me to take over the lead role of the Rye Julian Meeting which she had originally founded some 35 years earlier, but she continued to be an active member of the group right up to her last days. She will always have a special place with us, and be remembered at each of our future ecumenical gatherings.
Simon Benn: I owned and ran the Cobbles for over a decade and during that time had many conversations with Ann. She was a warm and interesting person. My word, she loved a scone, particularly one where you ‘couldn’t taste the raising agent’. With the loss of Ann at No.3 Hylands Yard and Hilary from No. 5 earlier in the year (another
forthright and fascinating character), and of course the passing of Pam from just down The Mint, this little enclave of Rye will never be the same again.
RIP all these wonderful ladies.