Remembering Rita 1945 - 2015
Rita disliked fuss. She was pretty straightforward about most things. She would fidget when things got overly complicated for no reason. In fact, this was a delightful quality she had. She would often say to me, ‘Why make something so complicated when it’s not complicated at all!
Rita started work for UNHCR in 1973. I met her in 1992 when she joined the computer section. She came to the section when desktop computers were becoming available to all staff for the very first time and laptops were becoming popular in the mobile workplace. At that time, I was responsible for the purchasing, installation and shipment of all computer related equipment to the field by truck, ship or plane and Rita was responsible for managing the international loan pool for laptops operating out of Headquarters. So we both worked very closely together discussing daily the new emergencies we had to handle and how best to deal with each situation which was always vastly different from the previous one.
She was one of the first staff members in the computer section in the early 90’s to have made a successful career managing the hugely popular loan pool for laptops for more than 1000 staff members at Headquarters. Laptops used to be just too heavy, had a short battery life and often broke down, but this did not deter her in the least. She would be at her desk during many lunch breaks fiddling about with her laptops until she got them going. Rita was responsible for emergency preparedness – that is staff that would go to the field to take care of refugee situations at short notice. She also had an extensive online computer system making absolutely sure that no-one would even dream of running off with her precious equipment!
Her contribution to UNHCR’s humanitarian effort was something that Rita took very seriously. She stood her ground for what she believed in and her idea of a lifestyle was to be true to that. Her strong work ethics played an important role in her life. Rita was reliable, always available, never took sick leave, and never quit until she had solved every technical problem she faced and this meant she was full of surprises. She was also an expert on the UN Staff Rules, Staff Rights, the complicated UN Pension fund, and knew all about how to manage your money in retirement! I learnt a lot from her. So when she retired at the end of 2003, after 30 years of dedicated service to UNHCR, many colleagues, including myself, missed her.
We celebrated many events together in particular the annual Christmas lunch, which started in 1984. Rita enjoyed this enormously. She always looked forward to these warm get-togethers and over the years our dear colleagues became our dear friends. It was at these special occasions she would tell us her quirky interesting stories about her life in New York in the 60’s with her sister Gwen. A true fan of the rock group - Queen - she was very much a babe of the 60’s and 70's – really into their music.
However, Rita’s primary focus was always her loving son Christopher. Coffee mornings at the office were always about Christopher - he achieving his maturity - and growing up into a handsome young man with such great promise. How very proud she was of him. I remember the time when he worked in a bank. Disillusioned by the world of banking, he decided to leave to become a primary school teacher. Rita took delight in his choices and successes and then the most exciting moment came when her son married Nadine becoming her loving daughter-in-law.
During these last most difficult weeks Rita and I talked about the future, her fears, her concerns, her past and her present. You see Rita was a lady who had truly enjoyed her life and was grateful for the good times. In particular, she told me she would miss her dear sisters Gwen and Pat who she leaves behind.
I met Pat some years ago when she requested a visit to CMS at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which Rita asked me to organise. Last week, Pat came back to Geneva to spend quality time with Rita just a few days before she passed away. I know how precious and important Pat’s love and support meant.
Rita’s sister Gwen, who Rita also cherished and loved, was with Rita during her last 6 days. Gwen, who had tragically lost her own young son 20 years ago to the sea, consoled Rita in her last hours. Realising that her time was limited, Rita remained philosophical, brave and resilient to the end. Her last wishes to me were that it was important to her that she was able to spend some quality time with the people she loved. She knew she had to leave us and she accepted that. She said that her family should stay strong, they should stay united and that they must do their best without her – the best they know how in her memory.
And finally, I would like to mention Rita’s best friend, Liz Tayfun who Rita met her first week in UNHCR in 1973 in the English typing pool. It was there they discussed how they could find better jobs and thereon remained good friends for 40 years helping each other through the drama of life and Liz remained true to friendship soothing her to the end.
I’m trying not to cry for Rita. But however hard I try to fight back the tears, I can only cry, and, as every tear trickles from my heart like dew on a morning meadow, I know she would be fidgeting in her seat and telling me ‘don’t make the situation more complicated then it actually is and don’t make such a fuss, all on account of me!’
Her family was everything
Her faith paramount
Her son and his wife her legacy
God Bless Rita
May she rest in peace
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announces with profound regret the death of
Ms. Rita Kitto Burki
Former Staff Member
on 17 April 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Ms Rita Kitto Burki joined UNHCR in July 1973 as a Shorthand Typist at Headquarters in Geneva. In 1975, she was assigned as Secretary in the PPR Unit and subsequently as Secretary in the Public Information Section. In 1992, Rita joined the IT & Telecom Service (ITSS) as Senior EDP Clerk. In 1998 she was appointed in ITTS as EDP Assistant, a position held until her separation from the organization at the end of 2003.
She leaves behind her son Christopher.
The funeral ceremony will take place on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 10 a.m. in the Sainte-Croix Church in Carouge, Switzerland.
Colleagues wishing to express condolences may do so by addressing them to the staff council (HQSR00@unhcr.org ) who will transmit them to the family.
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