Pamela Davids: 50 Years of Serving The Southern Cross
On December 3, 1973, Pamela Davids began her half-century career at The Southern Cross.
Fifty years ago, a shy teenager who had just finished her exams arrived at The Southern Cross’ offices to be interviewed for a job in the newspaper’s administration.
Jean Pothier, the imposing chairman of the board, must have seen something in the girl, for he gave her the job. So on December 3, 1973, Pamela Davids started her long tenure at The Southern Cross. Half a century later, Pamela is still serving the Catholic publication — the longest term of any staff member in the publication’s 103-year-long history.
Pothier might not have guessed it that day in 1973, but Pamela would one day become the newspaper’s business manager, when in 1995 she succeeded Noel Bruyns. By then, she had occupied practically every position there was in ensuring that the newspaper would get into the hands of readers every week, and advertisers be accommodated in its pages.
Pamela remembers the interview in November 1973: “I was very nervous. Mr Pothier made me spell ‘accommodation’.” Pamela could spell the word, launching what would also become a long professional association with the Pothier family. “Jean Pothier was succeeded on the board of directors by his son Bernard, and later Bernard’s daughter Rosanne Shields joined the board. She now chairs the board. So I have worked with three generations of Pothiers,” she notes.
She recalls her early colleagues. “Kristina Berge, a Polish lady doing the accounts, helped me so much as I had only just turned 16, straight out of Standard 8. Eileen Christie was the manager when I started. In time she would teach us staff members each other’s work, so if anyone went on leave, we could fill in their position.”
Pamela’s arrival coincided with that of a new editor. “Fr Louis Stubbs, who had been the editor since 1948, was retiring, and Fr Donald de Beer took over in December 1973,” Pamela explains. In her time, she has worked with six different editors.
She has fond memories of the people she has worked with, and some amusing reminiscences to go with them. For a long time, the managing director was William O’Grady. “I remember that when Cardinal Owen McCann — who became editor for a second term in 1986 — would come into the manager’s office, Mr O’Grady would practically stand to attention and straighten his jacket. And when Mr O’Grady went home early on a Wednesday — or to the horse races — the staff would down tools as well, or take out a book to read. Those were the early years.”
There have been many highlights in Pamela’s time at The Southern Cross. Being promoted to business manager in 1995 was one of them. “I had never thought I could do it, but the board of directors, under the chairmanship of John Robertson, had confidence in me.” Another highlight was going on the Southern Cross pilgrimage twice, in 2000 and 2013, travelling to the Holy Land, Egypt and Italy. Seeing Pope Francis close-up in St Peter’s Square is a particularly special memory.
And then there was the special honour of receiving the papal Bene Merenti medal from now-Cardinal Stephen Brislin in 2014, shortly after Pamela celebrated her 40th anniversary at The Southern Cross.
A devout family
Born in Cape Town to Sagan and Martha Davids, Pamela and her siblings — Neville, Avril, Owen and Paul — grew up in a devout Catholic family. They were parishioners of Corpus Christi in Wittebome, the parish Pamela still belongs to, and also attended Mass at the Schoenstatt shrine in Constantia.
The Davids family made their debut in The Southern Cross more than a decade before Pamela joined the newspaper’s staff, when a photo of the family’s Schoenstatt consecration in September 1962 was published in the newspaper. Sadly older siblings Neville and Avril have now passed away; Avril also worked at The Southern Cross for more than 20 years, starting in 1995.
Pamela was educated at St Augustine’s Primary in Wittebome and Immaculata High in Wynberg. The devotee to St Anthony of Padua — “he always helps me find things” — has a rich faith life, and is actively involved in her parish, especially in the Society of St Vincent de Paul. “Occasionally I also help out with the Schoenstatt family group,” she says.
Having belonged to Schoenstatt since childhood, Pamela’s favourite prayer is the movement’s Payer of Confidence: “I trust your might your kindness, Mother dear, I do believe you are always near, whatever happens, Mother Mild, I blindly trust in you and in Your Child.”
In her young days, Pamela was a well-regarded softball player, and also played volleyball. She also has enjoyed going to gym. She is a keen follower of sports, especially cricket and rugby.
Serving the Church
Pamela says she is happy having served the Church through The Southern Cross for five decades. “The office always had a family atmosphere — which sometimes also meant quarrels, as in any family. But over the years, I worked with many friendly, caring and supportive people. We never had very strict rules and regulations as you would have in the corporate world, so things have always been quite harmonious in the office. But above all, working in a Catholic environment has taught me a lot about the Catholic Church and my faith.”
The worst thing about her 50 years at The Southern Cross? “Moving offices! I have done it five times now, and that’s quite enough for me!” The deterioration in the services and reliability of the Post Office runs a close second. “It has certainly cost me a lot of nerves, and us a lot of readers.”
Things have changed a great deal since she turned up at work for the first time in 1973. “The change in technology has been mind-boggling,” Pamela notes. “We used to hand-write invoices and statements, and had to use carbon paper in the typewriter for duplicating things. Everything went by mail or telephone, with no guarantee that you would reach the person. Nowadays you can get answers from people straightaway by email or even WhatsApp.”
The biggest change
The biggest change, of course, was the transition of The Southern Cross from being the national newspaper it had been since 1920 to a monthly magazine in 2020. This took place at the same time all staff were retrenched. A dedicated skeleton staff of four, including Pamela, have remained as “freelancers”, working at substantial financial sacrifices. “That happened very suddenly due to the pandemic. Losing our colleagues was unexpected and actually traumatic, and we didn’t know whether The Southern Cross would survive.”
Distributing a magazine was a huge learning curve, but Pamela’s years of experience in every domain of administration meant that she was able to adapt quickly.
Things changed very suddenly for Pamela in January this year. Injuries sustained in a horrific car accident — a taxi crashed at full speed into the driver’s side of her car — and the long period of convalescence meant that Pamela had to relinquish her position of business manager after almost 27 years. “I had planned to retire after I’d celebrate my 50th anniversary at The Southern Cross, but God had other plans,” she says. Pamela was succeeded by Eugene Jackson — but even as circumstances forced her to step back, she remains involved with her life’s work.
Indeed, her work has come a full circle: When Pamela started at The Southern Cross in December 1973, her first duty was to send out subscription renewal reminders. Now she has taken over the subscriptions department again. “It’s nice to be still involved with The Southern Cross, and to be able to engage with readers,” she says. “God has been good.”
Published in the November 2023 issue of The Southern Cross magazine