An out of the ordinary requiem mass took place last Monday in St Anthony’s church, Watchbell Street, Rye. With the order of service, we were given a 20 page booklet telling in brief the story of a very remarkable person, who had lived and worked amongst us for half of her 90 years. An outpouring of affection has followed the news of her death.
Ann Hamilton was a well-known figure in the life of the Christian community in Rye, with a keen and practical interest in many different spheres of spiritual, ecumenical, environmental, social justice and other voluntary activities.
As a young girl she had lived in Oxford and attended 17 different schools before going up in 1949 to St Anne’s College, Oxford University to read modern languages. However, she switched in her second term to English literature and was tutored by both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis (both of their literature was influenced by their Christianity). CS Lewis sent her a postcard congratulating her on passing her degree. She went on to study prehistoric archaeology at Cambridge University and spent seasons of archaeological excavations in Greece, Jordon, Malta, Syria and also the UK.
Ann joined the Foreign Office and was posted on secondment to the High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria, where she met at first hand the work of CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. That was during the Biafran war, and her experience there was to have a profound impact on her as she mentions in an interview with CAFOD in 2018.
The Rye Years
Coming to Rye around 1975, she lived in several locations over the years including Church Square, Hucksteps Row (with her mother), Eagle Road, and Lion Street, where she ran a Christian bookshop. Her final home in Rye was in Hylands Yard, close to a very English teashop. There she lived quietly on her own, her lifestyle ascetic, neither extravagant nor self indulgent.
Ann applied her Christianity in diverse practical ways; she was an active member of Churches Together, which brings together members of different Christian denominations. She formed and led a local Julian group which met regularly to practise Christian contemplative prayer and meditation together and took part in the Rye Reflective group. Simon South, a permanent deacon who lives in Rye, remembers: “Ann always saw and looked for the best in people and was always very quick to listen, giving her time and energy without reservation; 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.”
Ann became international coordinator of the Dominican Secular Institute of Orleans (the lay catholic order of the Dominican family) in 2003, and continued travelling extensively well into her 80s. Her foreign travels took her to many countries including 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. “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.
Closer to home, her energies led her into long time support for CAFOD, and for Traidcraft, leading the move for Rye to become a Fairtrade town. Appointed a justice of the peace for East Sussex in 1986, she served for eight years. Her voluntary work included helping the elderly, the handicapped and alcoholics, and also supporting the work of the Rye street pastors. 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.
In 2010 Ann was presented with the the Benemerenti medal awarded by Pope Benedict XVI at a Mass held at St. Anthony of Padua, in recognition of long and exceptional service to the parish.
Ann was a quiet and very thoughtful person, never one to push herself forward. When asked for her advice or opinion, it would come slowly, deliberately and right to the point, but delivered with such modesty and often with humour. She would give sometimes a light-hearted laugh when recalling a failure to cope with the vagaries of modern life.
Simon South again recalls: “on leaving one of the numerous prayer meetings, 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.”
In her later years with her tall frame she was liable to fall over, often sustaining serious damage to herself. On one occasion she fell outside St Anthony’s church. A friend rushing to help, she opened a bleary eye and whispered: “Not yet, Father.” Ann Hamilton was faithful to the end, she lived simply and well, a life of prayer, friendship, service and joy.
Image Credits: Justin Kirby , courtesy of Justin Kirby .