JOURNALISTS, FRIENDS and admirers gathered at the British Ambassador’s residence in Lisbon last week to pay tribute to one of Portugal’s most stalwart citizens, reports The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman.
Sra Adelina Pires, who is 96 but appears 20 years younger, has devoted the last seven decades to the maintenance and protection of the British Cemetery in Lisbon. In recognition of her unstinting service, she was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her services to the British community. The British Ambassador, Mr John Buck, presented the award to Sra Adelina at the ceremony on May 18. Such was the interest generated by the event that television crews arrived to interview her, and her honour was even featured on the Portuguese news.
Sra Adelina, surrounded by family and friends, including members of the congregation at St George’s, revelled in the attention. A jovial and garrulous woman, she indulged in playful banter with the Ambassador, jokingly interrupting him several times before he presented her with the award. Then, despite her advanced years, Sra Adelina walked around the garden and happily posed for pictures with friends and admirers. These included churchwarden Joan Croft de Moura, the cemetery’s administrator, Andrew Swinnerton, and Mrs Mafalda Possolo, who has been attending to St George’s since she was a child.
Father Michael Bullock, the chaplain at St George’s, described Adelina’s contribution as “daunting”. Among family members present were Adelina’s daughter, Maria do Céu, and her son-in-law, Nelson Horta, who was also assistant chaplain at St George’s for four years.
Sra Adelina is widely viewed as a landmark of British life in Portugal. She first came to live at the British Cemetery in 1937 when she married Pedro Pires, then employed as a sexton and coffin maker. Later, she worked as a cleaner at St George’s Church and as a domestic servant to the various chaplains. After her husband’s death, she continued working, effectively unpaid, to support the upkeep of St George’s Church and the British Cemetery.
Sra Adelina is greatly appreciated for her invaluable knowledge of the cemetery. Despite being unable to read or write, her formidable memory enables her to divulge the precise location of every person buried at the site. A devoted custodian, she has shared a wealth of information and memories with visitors over the years. Nobody could doubt that her honour was richly deserved.