George Holtby Cram, a former secretary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), died Friday, March 16. He was 79.
Cram served the Anglican Church of Canada in a variety of roles from 1968 to 1989, when he stepped down as PWRDF secretary. Cram was known for his expertise in international development and his advocacy for refugees and human rights.
Born in Montreal in 1938, Cram attended McGill University, where he completed degrees in science and divinity, according to an online obituary. He worked and travelled considerably throughout South America, developing a fondness for the region.
Cram worked for a time for the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), which focused on advocating for social justice in Latin America. During the rule of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the group was instrumental in the eventual granting of Canadian visas to some political prisoners in that country. Cram himself travelled to Chile to select the prisoners to be released.
Jane Maxwell, who worked for PWRDF from 1978 to 1988, remembers Cram for his staunch collaborative approach to social justice issues, and his involvement in coalitions of church groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“George really believed in working with the other churches and with other NGOs,” she says. “He was very much ‘out there,’ you know—he wasn’t just an Anglican church executive; he was really part of the larger NGO ecumenical community and played a very important role…George more than anybody embodied the church’s commitment to certainly social justice and human rights issues.”
Cram also knew how to get government support for causes, she says. “Most of the staff who worked on social justice issues would say he was really a master tactician and strategist.”
Elsa Tesfay, PWRDF’s director of finance, administration and operations, began working at the fund not long before Cram’s departure and remembered him “as one who did not shy away from [speaking] his mind, especially on matters he was passionate about, such as human rights and refugees.” Tesfay recalled that he and Kathleen Ptolemy, another PWRDF staff, had travelled across Canada to set up a network of diocesan co-ordinators of volunteers for refugee work. “It was the first time that any church had set up such a network,” Tesfay said. The network still exists to this day, raising awareness of refugees and mobilizing Anglicans to sponsor them.
Cram served the church both internationally and nationally, first in community development in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. He was a projects officer for PWRDF before becoming its secretary and deputy-director of world mission.
In 1980, also worked as president of the Canadian Council for Refugees. He was a refugee consultant and a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada for 10 years. He was a treasurer for AURA, a refugee advocacy group, and volunteered at South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto.
Cram also chaired a study on government funding for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, a coalition of Canadian volunteer organizations, and sat on the board of Partnership Africa Canada, now known as IMPACT, which monitors human rights issues involving conflict diamonds and minerals.
“George worked ceaselessly his entire career helping people,” the obituary states. “By the time he was done his work, he had travelled to the majority of the world’s countries and positively impacted the lives of countless people. His compassion, wisdom and work ethic made him a powerful force for people in need.”
A visitation is to be held Wednesday, March 21 from 6-8 p.m. at Trull Funeral Home & Cremation Centre in Toronto, and a funeral service Thursday, March 22 at 11 a.m. at St. Barnabas on the Danforth Anglican Church, Toronto.
Editor’s Note: A reaction to the death of George Cram has been added to this story.