15 APRIL 2013


Friends are like stars. You don't always see them but you know they are there. Helen Gadalla, one of the most charming, dedicated U.N. civil servants -- very civil; very helpful -- was always there for all colleagues, friends for foe alike.

Her sense of humour gained friends in all places. She did not rely on her exquisite beauty nor on her many connections. Always pleasant, smiling accommodating, Helen Gadalla was most serious and effective at work. No jokes there. Just straightforward talk and outright competence. As Conference officer, she gained the respect and affection of delegates at all levels. There is a famous case when U.S. 41st President George H.W. Bush, who had served earlier as his country's Permanent Representative in New York, made an official visit as President and called to leave a message at her desk. Her colleagues thought it was a prank. But those who knew Helen -- and the gracious 41st President -- knew better. When Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali became Secretary General, most colleagues thought she would be particularly favoured by a fellow Egyptian Copt. But Helen sought nothing. She thought "Boutros" was "as stubborn as lead" when it came to personal pride; she was equally stubborn.

When retirement time approached, she quietly arranged to go to Florida, where she formed her group of friends, especially for the usual weekly gathering. Regrettably, her depressing illness and fading eyesight made it more difficult for her to spread the pleasure of her company. She remained secluded in Fort Lauderdale where she passed away on 7 February. Our condolences to her family: Brother Aziz, Sisters Alice and Hoda.

Our colleague, Joyce Sulahian, who worked with Helen wrote the following obituary:

Helen Gadalla, a friend and former colleague of so many throughout the worldwide United Nations community, passed away all too early in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 7 February 2013, at the age of 74.

Helen was born in Cairo, Egypt, and immigrated to the United States in 1968. Early on, she studied television production at New York University, and soon after joined the U.N. in the Executive Office of then-Secretary General U Thant, thus beginning her dedicated and lifelong career in the Organization. Subsequently, she transferred to Conference Services, where she became one of the most popular conference officers to serve in that Department, due to her outgoing, charming and warm-hearted personality that formed the basis for countless friendships that lasted a lifetime.

Following her promotion to the professional level of staff, Helen joined the Department for Disarmament Affairs as its Executive Officer and during her tenure traveled frequently to Europe, the Far East and Russia to manage conferences of disarmament experts that were being organized under U.N. auspices at the time. She left Disarmament upon her selection as the Chief Executive Officer for the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Pakistan and India (UNMOGIP), the first woman to assume this sensitive post. She faced the challenge head on, living in the region through unsettling times, commuting between UNMOGIP's dual headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Strinagar (Kashmir), India. She also served for a time at the Palais in Geneva before returning to New York. Helen concluded her distinguished U.N. career in ECOSOC Affairs before retiring in 1995.

Helen had a joyful, kind and generous spirit, a great sense of humour and was known as the life of any party, whether as a guest or a hostess. One of her close friends said "Helen was always up to something," and indeed that's what made her so much fun. She loved to entertain, which she did graciously and often, and the friendships she had forged during her U.N. career sometimes had unexpected results. One of those friends was former U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. George Bush, Sr. On one occasion, when visiting the U.N. after becoming President of the United States, he surprised Helen by leaving a jovial lunchtime message on her office voice mail asking to see her. She mistakenly thought someone was playing a joke!

After retirement, Helen found her oceanfront paradise on the East Coast of Florida, but her enjoyment was cut short by the insidious disease that slowly stole her vision and ultimately her life.

Memorial services took place in the Florida she loved, attended by her grieving family and friends. Helen is survived by her siblings, sisters Alice Burrage and Hoda Khalil, and brother Aziz Gadalla. Another sister, Isis, predeceased her. She also leaves behind several loving nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, cousins, and of course a myriad of friends around the globe who find it hard to believe that her bright star has been extinguished so prematurely. May Helen Gadalla, our friend and colleague, rest in peace and be remembered in our prayers and fond memories.

Those wishing to communicate with Helen's family may do so through her sister, Alice Burrage, 4020 Galt Ocean Drive, Apt. 1601, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33308-6505; email: aliceburrage@att.net