BHWF welcomes BHCA executive director Patricia Tully

Story & Photos by Marianne Salza

Beacon Hill Women’s Forum (BHWF) March 12 guest speaker, Patricia Tully, served as the British government’s trade and consular representative in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands for 17 fulfilling years. Tully’s compassion and attentiveness became essential for the advancement of commerce and the lives of those who depended on her guidance and care. Now as the executive director of the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) since 2016, she has continued her passion of service.

“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, and I am still motivated and challenged,” said Tully. “I know that the issues this neighborhood faces can be solved with the same professionalism and empathy that carried me through those years, and I am so grateful for it all.”

In 1990, Tully and her then husband relocated from Londonderry, New Hampshire, to Puerto Rico with their three children under the age of five. She recognized that the best way to learn a foreign language was to immerse herself in the culture – particularly, the local supermarket. Five years later, Tully gave birth to her fourth child.

“It was different from the grey days in Boston. It was a vibrant place,” Tully described. “I enjoyed this time of my life so much – raising my two daughters and two sons in this unrestricted place, where we were always outside, on the beach, or in the car on any given day.”

In 1997 — the year that Princess Diana of Whales tragically lost her life — an exciting position on behalf of British trade arose for Tully, who by then, spoke fluent Spanish. Her responsibility was searching for opportunities for British businesses to sell their goods or services, such as petroleum, scotch whiskey, and jewelry, in Puerto Rico. Tully also collaborated with large utility and infrastructure companies to build airport runways and aqueducts.

“I was on call always, and had to travel a lot,” said Tully, who attended extensive training sessions and conferences. “My kids were so proud of me. They gave me the strength to keep going. They’re in everything I do.”

In 2000, Tully was promoted to vice consular; and later an honorary consular, the highest position she could attain as a non-British citizen. She utilized her background in architecture to help design a full consular office.

“It was built with bullet-proof glass, walls, and doors,” detailed Tully. “Now I was the sole representative of the United Kingdom in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. My responsibilities expanded to assist and protect UK citizens in the region.”

Tully recalled welcoming Prince Harry when he arrived in San Juan on route to Las Vegas. They sat and talked in an American Airlines lounge while people attempted to photograph him from behind plants.

Her duties included receiving Royal Navy ships and planning events to be held on them. Tully organized visits for United Kingdom ambassadors to meet the governor of Puerto Rico, and his cabinet, as well as local business owners.

“I would get wonderful letters of appreciation from commanders in the Royal Navy,” smiled Tully. “I saved all of these things.”

One of her first cases in response to a UK citizen in distress involved a 31-year-old British man who worked on a cargo ship that was transporting yachts through the Caribbean. He fell 30 feet, face down onto a deck below, sustaining terrible injuries and memory loss. Although the man never remembered Tully, she visited him in the hospital every day until it was safe for him to return home.

Tully also regularly visited the federal prison in San Juan. A moment she will never forget was one of her first encounters with an inmate: a woman who had been arrested for smuggling drugs on a cruise ship.

“I found myself angry at this person I didn’t know who I had to help because of what she had done, and the danger she could have brought to any child. As a mother, that was my reaction,” shared Tully. “It was the first time I had ever been to prison. I’ll never forget the slamming of the doors behind me. Once I left my belongings with the guards, and I was allowed to enter, I had to pass through two doors. It was impressive. I realized this was serious.”

Tully waited in a guarded cafeteria, where the furniture was attached to the floor. When the prisoner was escorted into the room, and Tully began speaking with her, she realized that her perceptions were wrong, and that the person was a woman just like her, but without the same opportunities. All she had asked for was baby powder and feminine hygiene products.

“I went to that prison many times after that to sit with prisoners who had done terrible things; but I tried to keep my professionalism, listening skills, and empathy front and center,” explained Tully.

The most challenging case that Tully aided in was for a couple who had been vacationing on a cruise ship. When the husband became ill, he was rushed to a San Juan hospital, where he passed away. Tully visited the morgue, and tended to the man’s wife, Sylvia, who was in need of support and a comfortable place to rest until Tully was able to arrange a flight home so their only son could be reunited with his father in Sheffield.

“I had to face a grief-stricken woman who would rely on me for almost everything for the next two weeks, and I had to face the thing that I most feared, which was seeing a recently-deceased person,” Tully shared. “The next few days were filled with insurance issues back in the UK, and all kinds of complications.”

The ladies formed a bond that prevails to this day. Tully and Syliva remain in touch; and Tully even visited her in London in 2005.

In 2006, in recognition of her exemplary work handling difficult consular cases, Tully earned an Honorary Member of the British Empire, bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. At the British Embassy, in Washington, DC, Tully was acknowledged for her achievements, along with a recipient who was researching a cure for AIDS, and an individual who was devising a peace plan for Northern Ireland.

“This was beyond anything I ever could have imagined,” said Tully, who has four grandchildren. “It was more than I could absorb. It’s something I treasure.”

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