Pamela O'Malley

Rebel educationist in Madrid


Pamela O'Malley, teacher and educationist: born Dublin 12 July 1929; married 1952 Gainor Crist (died 1964; two stepdaughters); died Madrid 12 February 2006.

Pamela O'Malley was a well-known Madrid character who dedicated her life to democracy and education in Spain. She held dual Irish and Spanish nationality and became a militant member of the anti-Franco opposition and was jailed for her beliefs.

Many of her pupils at the British School in Madrid were the sons and daughters of leading members of the Franco regime, but this never influenced her attitude to her charges. When the judge who had sentenced her to prison was assassinated by Eta, she was one of the first to visit the family to offer her condolences. She remained close to hundreds of these former pupils, many of whom have gone on to make their mark in Spanish politics, the judiciary or diplomacy.

O'Malley was born in 1929 in Dublin but brought up in Limerick, where her family were wine importers. She admitted that her rebellious streak was inherited from her mother and, straight out of University College Dublin, she ran away with a married man, Gainor Crist - an American friend of the writer J.P. Donleavy, who used him as the model for Sebastian Dangerfield, the "brawling, boozing, whoring" hero of his 1955 novel The Ginger Man. But she remained close to her family and many friends in Ireland, visiting them at least twice every year.

She first came to Spain in 1947 when their father sent her with her brother George to visit their sherry suppliers. Spain in the 1940s was very different from today, and foreigners were rarely seen. She often reminisced about many incidents of that trip including one when they arrived in Jerez and were taken to the beach by their Spanish hosts. When she changed into a chaste black woollen regulation school bathing suit, her hostess, a former English public-school girl herself, was horrified at what she considered to be a revealing garment. She insisted on lending O'Malley a more discreet model complete with a skirt to cover her thighs.

She married Gainor Crist in Gibraltar when they moved to Spain in 1952, first to Barcelona and then to Madrid the following year. They taught English before she joined the staff of the British School where she remained for 34 years until her retirement. Her husband died, aged 42, in 1964.

In the 1960s she became involved with the underground anti-Franco struggle when she joined the clandestine Spanish Communist Party and was a founder member of the education branch of the Workers' Commission, at that time also illegal. It was not an easy time for anyone fighting for democracy in Spain. O'Malley was detained several times for her political activities and served two jail sentences. Even in Carabanchel prison she continued to work, and she passed the time teaching her fellow prisoners, many of them prostitutes, to read and write.

After Franco's death in 1975 and the legalisation of trade unions and political parties she remained active in the struggle for democracy and teachers' rights. Always the protester, she rarely missed a demonstration, once spending several hours parading through Madrid dressed in a burkha protesting against the Taliban's treatment of women in Afghanistan.

Even in politics she was rebellious. In 1982 she was expelled from the Spanish Communist Party for adopting an unorthodox Euro-Communist line. She joined several others who had suffered the same punishment in forming the Izquierda Unida (United Left). But she was not always in agreement with them either and as with many of her fellow IU members her sympathies gradually swung towards the Socialists.

After her retirement from the British School in 2003 she was awarded the Gold Medal by the Spanish Ministry of Labour for her work to further Spanish education. But it was not a quiet retirement. She wrote a doctoral thesis on educational movements under Franco and edited a book, Education Reform in Democratic Spain (with Oliver Boyd-Barrett, 1995). In 2004 she was appointed President of the Assembly for Cooperation and Peace, an NGO promoting racial harmony between children of different races and building schools and other projects in Third World countries. Their most recent work has been in Palestine, a country she visited on many occasions.

However busy O'Malley was, her regular season ticket at the Madrid bullring during the San Isidro bullfight festival was sacred and she could always be seen in the same seat high up in the arena. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and art of bullfighting.

Jane Walker

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