Grace Sampson: 50 years’ service / H.F. Rossetti

Grace Sampson: 50 years’ service / H.F. Rossetti

Grace joined the staff of the London Branch Office on New Year’s Day of 1926. She had reached the age of 16 years exactly four weeks earlier. She retired on the last day of 1975 and on that day, she completed fift y years’ unbroken service with the lLO, all at the London Branch Office. If at Headquarters, or any other out-stationed Office, there is, or ever has been, any servant of the Organisation with a record of long service equal to this, I should be very much surprised. I shall .also be surprised if her record is ever again equaled.

In 1926 Albert Thomas was still Director, which means that Grace Sampson served in the London Office under every one of the DGs. When David Morse was Director-General, he arranged for her to be invited to Geneva on official mission during the session of the Conference in June 1967. This was in recognition of her long and devoted service. And yet she continued to work for another eight years.

Mrs. Sampson had left London on mission on two previous occasions. In 1945 she was in Copenhagen from 15 November to 1 December as a member of the Secretariat at the Meeting of the Maritime Preparatory Technical Conference. The following year she was in Brussels from 14 November to 3 December serving successively as a member of the Office staff at the first session of the Textiles Committee and, immediately afterwards, at the first session of the Building, Civil Engineering and Public Works Committee. She thus had a very early opportunity to acquire first­hand knowledge of the new postwar development of ILO activities, in the shape of Industrial Committees.

The great bulk of Mrs. Sampson’s work was, of course, done in the London Branch Office. This does not mean that she stayed in the same place. The office to which the 16-year-old girl reported on 1 January 1926 (New Year’s Day was not then an office holiday) was at 26 Buckingham Gate, near Buckingham Palace. Later “homes” of the London Branch Office in which she served were in Victoria Street, Parliament Street, Piccadilly, and then, for her final year of service, New Bond Street. In addition to these offices, and literally more like a “home” than the others, was the Director’s country home at Rudgwick in Sussex, where the staff established itself for several years during the Second World War after the Victoria Street office was bombed. The daughter of the local doctor was, Grace tells me, recruited to help out with the typing when necessary. I first saw Mrs. Sampson when visiting Mr. Burge, who was then Director, for a weekend during this period of wartime exile.

Mr. Burge was the second and much the longest-serving of the Directors of the Branch Office (1924-1945). Mrs. Sampson worked for him for almost 20 years after joining the staff in 1926. Later she served under Mr. Robbins, Mr. Pickford, Mr. G. A. Johnson (on his short migration from Headquarters to London), Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans, and Mr. Slater.

I took over from Mr. Slater on All Fools’ Day of 1970. Grace Sampson had by then completed her forty-fourth year of service and it would not be surprising if she looked on me with a slightly weary eye – the seventh Director she had worked for! (Even Grace had not arrived at the London Office in time to work for the very first Director, way back in 1920, J.E. Herbert.)

But if her eye was slightly weary, I got no suggestion of its being so. She was, and always remained, full of energy and enthusiasm. She had, by the time of my arrival, graduated from the girl-clerk of 1926 to the librarian, but she was a librarian with a difference. Her capacious memory and long experience made catalogues and card-indexes and such devices for helping the ill-informed quite unnecessary. She was of invaluable help to all inquirers after truth who visited the London Office, or who wrote, or who telephoned, provided it was ILO truth that they were after.

She occasionally gazed briefly into the middle distance where memories have their being, or glanced quickly over the shelves, before saying: “I think this report on Food Consumption and Dietary Surveys in the Americas presented by the ILO to the Eleventh Pan American Sanitary Conference held in Rio de Janeiro in 1942 might help you in your inquiries.”

Of course, there were times when neither the middle distance, nor the shelves, yielded answers to the strange requests for information put by visitors, and we had to have recourse to HQ.

Her departure on 31 December 1975, after 50 years of devoted work was a sad day for the London Office and the ILO as a whole. We shall not know ourselves without Grace to refer conundrums to and to help us in all the innumerable ways that have come so naturally to her kindly disposition.

Whether the Organisation will ever have a longer-serving official seems, as I said at the start, doubtful: it could not have one who will take more interest in its work or serve it more devotedly and well.

(First published in ILO World, January 1976)


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