Patricia Pank, singing nurse who opened doors of home to refugees

People from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Phillipines, and Herefordshire too, found a safe place in her warm home

Thursday, 19th May — By Dan Carrier


Patricia Pank

PATRICIA Pank, who has died aged 83, spent a lifetime helping others.

She worked as a nurse and lecturer, as a trustee on numerous charities, and opened up her Kentish Town home to refugees.

Tricia was born in South Africa in 1938, and grew up in Zimbabwe. She trained as a nurse and travelled to England aged 21 to study midwifery in Oxford and London.

Her long and varied career in medicine included teaching at University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and working as the clinical coordinator of the Bloomsbury health authority.

Tricia met her husband, the architect Philip Pank, in 1962 and they married that year. They had four children and in 1967 moved into a house in Kentish Town which Philip had designed.

It would become not just the Pank family headquarters, but a meeting place for a range of organisations and civic societies that the couple supported. Neighbours found an open and welcoming home, where food was shared, songs sung and plays performed.

Patricia Pank 

Her upbringing in Zimbabwe shaped her anti-racism. In 1971, she returned to make a series of broadcasts for the BBC on rural health issues in the country.

She spent 11 years as a magistrate at Highbury Corner court, became a lay member of the Bar Council and used her experience to help train people at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

That work continued as a trustee of the Helen Bamber Foundation and of the Baobab Therapeutic Centre for Young Survivors in Exile. Tricia went on to become a lecturer and research fellow at King’s College London up until 2003, designing nursing courses and shaping how nursing was taught. Another task she took on was guiding the role of medical research in hospitals, putting ethics at its centre.

Medical ethics was a lifelong interest, and she served on the Royal Marsden Emergency Service Clinical Governance Group. It is no surprise her professional life should be reflected in how she used her time outside of work.

The cornerstones of her character were generosity and compassion. Her empathy meant the door to their home was always open, her motivation a strong sense of social justice.

In 1966, she became a trustee of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child. Tricia trudged the streets of Kentish Town identifying dilapidated homes which could be done up to house single parent families. And she practised what she preached: her home was used for decades to provide shelter for others, from single mums to refugees.

Her son Pip recalls thinking nothing of being collected from school in the 1970s by an Algerian refugee decked out in combat fatigues.

People from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Phillipines, and Herefordshire too, found a safe place in her warm home, while one room hosted therapy sessions for child soldiers from African conflict zones.

The back garden became an allotment for Kurdish refugees, while Philip’s studio, used for both his architecture and art, became a rehearsal space for classical musicians who were asylum seekers and the Woven Gold choir of refugees.

Philip passed away in 1991, and Tricia was unwell in 1997, having undergone an operation for cancer. Her health problems meant she redoubled her zest for adventure. Her rehabilitation in­cluded travelling the world, where she trekked through jungles, snorkelled on coral reefs, rode horses in the Andes, swam with dolphins in New Zealand.

She also performed with her choir in Rome, Prague and the USA. Tricia was much loved by her friends and she had an active social life, which included singing in numerous choirs including the Royal Free Hospital choir.

She attended rehearsals up to last month, and a performance of Handel’s Messiah she had been due to sing in was given in her honour a fortnight ago.

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