I FIRST met Rita Klimova in Prague in 1965 and we remained friends until her death, writes Professor Archie Brown. After the Soviet invasion in 1968 she came to Glasgow with her father and two children. She was offered a teaching post at the University, where I also taught, but, after several weeks of thought, chose to return to Prague, knowing the future would be uncertain and probably gloomy.
Rita herself could never be gloomy for long, although she suffered more setbacks in her private and public lives than anyone could be expected to bear with such fortitude. She was wonderful company. Field Marshal Montgomery judged people on the basis of whether they would make 'a good man to go into the jungle with'. Rita was an ideal person with whom to be followed by the secret police, as I had a number of occasions to find out in Prague during the Husak years. She could never take either them or their political masters entirely seriously. Nor did the fact that her apartment and telephone were bugged inhibit her from saying exactly what she thought of Gustav Husak and his colleagues.
Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s Rita was forbidden to travel to the West. It was not until 1987 that she was allowed out and stayed with us in Oxford. By that time she was an increasingly active dissident. After another visit the following year she returned to Prague to emerge as 'the lady with the red flower' who acted as guide and translator for Western intellectuals taking part in a forum led by Havel. When Havel was arrested, Rita was briefly detained.
Probably as a result of that episode, the Communist authorities refused her permission to travel in the summer of 1989, but by the end of the year she was appointed ambassador to Washington. Last year she won new admirers in Britain when she lectured in Oxford.
For her many friends she leaves an imperishable memory of courage in adversity, generosity of spirit, sharp intelligence, wit and warm- heartedness. Talking to me in Prague in 1969 about her years as a young Communist she said: 'We helped to get the country into this mess. The least we could do was help get it out again.' Twenty years later, alongside her friend Havel, she achieved all that and more.
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