Nick Barton's tribute to the late Eva Rausing
13 July 2012
Article written for The Guardian's website and published on 12 July 2012
The news of the untimely death of Eva Rausing is devastating to all who knew and worked with her. Eva was much admired for the very personal commitment shared with her husband Hans in supporting a number of charitable causes, including several organisations in the addiction field. While writing about Eva, it is impossible to separate her contribution from that of her husband's, which must be borne in mind. They were a team.
The wonderful thing for this charity, Action on Addiction, and I suspect others that she supported, is that the Rausings were so encouraging – and in ways that allowed us to focus on the needs of our beneficiaries. In a world where political, ideological and funding pressures can throw a charity off course, that is indeed a great boon.
Theirs has been both a deeply interested approach but one that was also completely hands-off. They fully appreciated the struggles that charities face to sustain their work and independence of mind and never used their generosity to determine the direction we should take. Once they were convinced of the value of the initiative or programme that was presented to them, their support was wholehearted and consistent.
Their interest in the effect of the work on the lives of real people was particularly striking. That might be directly through delivery of treatment and rehabilitation or support for families, or indirectly through training people to work as addictions counsellors to a much higher standard. This explains why the Rausings so loved the fund they helped us to establish, which helped people who could not afford the treatment we offered or could not gain access through the state system. They derived immense pleasure from the letters of gratitude we passed on to them from people who had benefited from the scheme: people from all manner of backgrounds who never knew who their benefactors were.
Sometimes philanthropy is grandly bestowed with public fanfare. Never in the Rausings' case. Theirs was quietly and modestly given, never wanting the spotlight to fall on them, but on the work. That is why they would not like us to talk about precise amounts given, large though they have been. On several occasions after generous grants, say, for a building like that in Warminster in which the Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies was established, I inquired whether, to show our gratitude publicly, we could name the building after them, the answer was always the same: no thank you.
I hadn't personally seen Eva for many years but I remember well the time when she was a trustee of Clouds, one of the charities that merged in 2007 to become the new version of Action on Addiction. She was easy to work with. I was impressed with how seriously she took the role. Though quiet, she was clearly intelligent, good-humoured, sharp-witted and very conscientious where her duties as a trustee were concerned.
Inevitably, Eva's death draws attention to addiction and not just because of her philanthropy. If any good is to come from the tragedy, it is perhaps that we may take another step towards a rational discussion of addiction. Prurient sensationalising and trivialising of this destructive condition does nobody any good. Maybe it will help us realise that as human beings we are all potentially susceptible to the grip of an addiction. Maybe it will help lessen the harmful power of the stigma of addiction.
But we can still celebrate a wonderful legacy. Eva helped make a real difference to the lives of many suffering people from all walks of life both in the UK and abroad. One can only admire and say thank you.
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