Tigger Stack Ramsay-Brown died on 3 December at the age of 95. What was extraordinary was not her age, but that till the end, her mind was as sharp and as keen as it was when my husband Stan first met her in 1977. She was elegant, charming and gracious. And kept her commitment, values and concern about the burning issues of the day – eradicating poverty and injustice, till she passed on.
I’d heard about Tigger, of course. She was legendary. I knew about all the work she’d done through Oxfam. But, before her funeral, I read a moving obituary, written by development consultant and respected author Maggie Black, which made me fully realise the decades of work and passion that Tigger represented.
Tigger was born in India, to privilege. And her heart remained with India always. Her father belonged to the elite pre-Independence civil service. So Tigger grew up familiar with the problems of poverty. She could have entered the ladies-who-lunch club, occupying herself with Calcutta socialites, the tennis and cocktail circuit. Or the Mahjong and Bridge games brigade at the Calcutta Club. Instead she used her privilege to open doors for the poorest people, Bihar famine victims, Andhra cyclone refugees, the wretched of the earth. She hijacked helicopters, hobnobbed with politicians, with the Tatas and other millionaires and used their wealth, power and influence to overcome paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles which would have been insurmountable to most people. She could charm anyone. And she did. Obdurate civil servants and army officers with a penchant for rank and hierarchy sent Tigger’s Oxfam supplies and personnel to famine, flood and cyclone victims. She did everything with panache. With flair.
Tigger’s charm and wit worked, but it was her in-depth discussions, analysis with umpteen experts, the weighing of many opinions before plunging into action, which made her so successful. She dealt with one natural disaster after another. Man-made famines too. But she thought about poverty and possible solutions from the long term perspective. It absorbed her all her life.
When I met Tigger for the first time, she was close to 80. Her working-in-India days had stopped. But she was involved with her sister’s charity, the Prison Trust. I adored Tigger’s quintessential English garden, one of the prettiest I’ve seen. We were lucky to sit in her Oxford conservatory several times in spring, when the garden was at its best, imbibing coffee, tea and wisdom. Her husband Donald had fought in the Afghan war. I always felt awed. Like I was tucked inside the pages of a history book, absorbing it all.
I loved their old world charm, the graciousness that is a truly rare commodity these days. At 90, Tigger insisted on picking us up and driving us to her delightful Woodstock home in England, near Blenheim. She wouldn’t hear of us taking buses. I always felt transported into another world. She was intense and passionate about fighting poverty, yet she was never holier-than-thou and never looked down on anyone as a lesser mortal. She never needed to posture about over the top political correctness.
On my last visit in May, Tigger talked about religion, spirituality, values, being a woman and a wife, just about everything under the sun. She suggested I meet a theologian friend whom she respected deeply. I enjoyed her conversations about Christianity because they resonated with my feelings, feelings I’d somehow never clarified before. I’m often ashamed of the organized Church. But definitely choose to remain Catholic. Tigger helped me to sort out some of my deepest feelings, thoughts, anger and pain. She gave me clarity, brought me comfort, on so many fronts though she knew she didn’t have much time left.
When we entered her home last April, I expected to see her in bed, since I knew she’d been just through intense treatment. But she welcomed us at the door, smiling. Astonished, I said, ‘Tigger, you look so well.’ She laughed. ‘Darling you’re going to say that when you see me in my coffin,’ she replied.
I’ve no doubt that’s how she looked when they buried her.
Those of us who knew her, are deeply privileged. We will mourn our loss of Tigger. But it’s her life we must celebrate.