Remembering Pam Alexander OBE (1954-2023)

Pam Alexander OBE CGeog Hon FRIBA FRGS FRSA AoU (NC 1972) sadly passed away on Good Friday. She had been suffering from cancer.

A geographer, who studied under Dr Lucy Adrian (NC 1954), Pam was an active member of the College and had a varied career, specialising in housing, urban design and economic regeneration. She spent 20 years as a civil servant in the then Department of the Environment, becoming Deputy Chief Executive of the Housing Corporation, CEO of English Heritage and subsequently the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), later moving into a non-executive career in 2011.

She chaired the Heritage Alliance, Commonplace, and the Planning Committee of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which created new neighbourhoods, skills and jobs around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford East.

Pam also served on the Commission on Creating Healthy Cities, as an ambassador on the London Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Board, and as an advisor to, a platform integrating plans for addressing climate change. A founder member of the Equilibrium Network, supporting women’s leadership in the built environment professions, she mentored on several women’s leadership programmes

A staunch supporter of the College, Pam was a Newnham Associate and Honorary Associate and  President of the Newnham Roll from 2015 to 2018. She was awarded an OBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours List for services to regeneration.

More detail of her career in her own words can be found at here at the Newnham Associates webpage.

We have received many tributes to her from fellow Newnhamites who remember her for her deep knowledge, sage advice, support and kindness, as well as her commitment to the College. Extracts from a few are included below.

“I first met Pam when she came out to Brussels as Chief Executive of SEEDA, 20 ago now, when I was working at the then UK Permanent Representative to the EU,” says Principal Alison Rose (NC 1980). “It was a great joy when I became Principal of Newnham to find Pam so actively involved at Newnham, in supporting alumnae and current students through her work for the Roll and for the Associates.

“She always had wise advice to offer, and attended events whenever she could, her large portfolio of other commitments notwithstanding. We are enormously grateful to her for all she did. She will genuinely be missed by her many friends at Newnham.”

“As a new Development Director and Registrar of the Roll, I was hugely grateful to Pam for her views and insights and her support and recognised instantly, Covid times notwithstanding, the importance of her commitment, her loyalty to Newnham and her leadership,” says Sarah Carthew, Newnham’s Development Director.

TedX triumph

“I worked with Pam in her capacity as President of the Roll Committee for three years,” says Penny Hubbard (NC 1979), former Development Director and Registrar of the Roll.  She had a ‘lifelong passion and commitment for Newnham College, its students and female leadership’.

“The project I associate most closely with Pam was TEDx Newnham. As she wrote in her recent contribution to the second Newnham Anthology – ‘One of my top recent memories of Newnham is the inspiring day that was TEDxNewnham, on 17 February 2018, when we celebrated 100 years of the Newnham Roll and all that Newnham stands for in women’s education and development, with the theme ‘Embracing Challenge’.

“Pam was an expert Chair and guided the TEDx Organising Committee with skill and a robust approach to any hurdles or difficulties. At one point our live feed showed us trending number 3 on Twitter and I recall Pam’s excitement that TEDx Newnham had put the college on the digital map!

She was rightly proud of the unique event we had all created together and its legacy – you can still see the Wall of Women on the College website and the Newnham TEDx talks can viewed on YouTube.

“I was honoured to work with Pam. I learned a great deal from watching her in action and will cherish that wonderful year of 2018 and her memory.”

‘A great communicator’

“Pam was indeed a remarkable woman and it was a privilege to have known her, says Christine Drewienkiewicz, Chair of the Honorary Associates (NC 1967). “Having served a full term as an Associate and sat on the Committee, Pam became a very active Hon, continuing to share her experience from her distinguished career as a senior civil servant and non- exec.  She was the first generation of her family to have a degree and was always keen to support access for the new generations of students.

“Most recently she sparkled at the Associates Spring Party at Newnham in 2022. She was President of the Roll Committee between 2015 and 2018 and, during that time, she enthusiastically forged links with the Associates. She was such a warm person and a great communicator, so it was always a pleasure to chat to her at College events.”

Pam’s ‘warmth and friendship’

“Pam was an inspiration in so many ways: her distinguished career, her gifts of calm, friendly leadership – but what I think of most of all was her humanity,” says Antonia Till (NC 1957). “She could have been grand, patronising (she was so knowledgeable) or distant but no, she was warm and kind to all of us, even those who like me had no such distinction or CV.  She will be missed but I know you will all continue to follow and enact her example.”

“I remember having a lovely chat with her when we were on a tour of the Newnham gardens,” says Karin Horowitz (NC 1978).  “She was always a force to be reckoned with and she was very impressive when I was new to the Newnham Associates and she was a seasoned member and leader. Her contributions at Associates’ meetings were always vigorous and engaging.  We all benefited from her wise and committed presence.”

“It was my privilege and pleasure to serve with her on the TEDx committee,” recalls Valery Rees (NC 1965). I was always impressed by her incredible skill in chairing meetings, steering us all towards agreement on what could be agreed, avoiding divisions and difficulties that could be avoided, and leading us in vigorous action towards what was undoubtedly a remarkable outcome.

“Besides such consummate professionalism, I valued her warmth and her friendship, and felt she embodied so many of the qualities we prize, and that have been nurtured so well in all our associations with the College both ‘then’, in our student days, and ‘now’. I look forward to opportunities to celebrate Pam’s life and achievements.”

A ‘hard act to follow’

Rolande Anderson (NC 1973) became head of the Government Office for the South-East of England whilst Pam was in charge of the South East Economic Development Agency. She writes, “Dynamic is always the word that comes to mind when I think of Pam. Working with her, both as an Associate and as a civil servant, was an invigorating experience. Lots of collaboration, an edge of competition, masses of ideas.

“Privately, Pam could be disarmingly frank about her own insecurities. It was this willingness to open up which made her a great Newnham Associate. She had a strong commitment to supporting those who were ‘first gen’ students as she had been. For them, to see that such a successful woman had experienced her own ups and downs was extremely valuable.”

“Pam was an incredibly hard act to follow as Roll President – but what a role model she was for us all,” recalls Jo Burch (NC 1983).  “I found among my email exchanges with her a comment she made about a job interview she’d just had, which demonstrates her humility despite her remarkable professional successes.

“She said, ‘I was authentically me – if that isn’t who they want or need just now, that’s just fine as my ambition is to be useful and have impact, not to be wanted.’

“These may sound, at first, like modest ambitions but they define perfectly the outward-looking, community-minded, generous, selfless but self-confident Newnhamite that we all strive to be. And, Pam, you were all these things and you were wanted and loved, and will be sorely missed by us all.”

“Pam Alexander was a remarkable woman who accomplished many notable achievements in her phenomenal career,” recalls Annette Spencer, President of the Roll Committee. “This was as true of the mark she left on Newnham’s Roll Committee as in all her other walks of life, and her legacy will live on for a long time.

“I first met Pam when I joined the Roll Committee in 2014 as a new recruit, a year before she became President of the Roll.  She was an exceptional role model in that post, and a real inspiration to me personally (which is probably how I’ve ended up as the current President myself!).

“Pam was a consummate chair, a superb mobiliser of both people and projects, and most of all a deeply human and caring individual who always had time for everyone. Her passion for everything to do with Newnham was infectious, and her energy and vision were exceptional.

“On the Roll we will remember her positive attitude, her firm steering of many complex meetings and, of course, her love of all kinds of choral singing! She will be greatly missed.”

Pam is survived by her husband Roger and four stepchildren.