One of Pandaw River Cruises’ most loved passengers, Dr Kay Helm, has passed away, and Pandaw founder Paul Strachan has written this touching letter.

On the 5th of September 2012, Dr Kay Helm passed away aged ninety-six. Many of our passengers will have met Kay and a number will have known her quite well. Kay held the record for the most number of Pandaw voyages, no one counted them but we reckon she made over fifty. More than me and I am the owner!

Kay was on our first ever Burma river expedition in September 1995 and travelled with us, at least twice a year, every year right into her early nineties. Some years Kay would come out and spend the entire winter on the Irrawaddy, visited intermittently by family and friends from her native Lancashire.

Pandaw II, main deck cabin 202 was Kay’s home and here she would royally entertain the chosen few to pre-dinner cocktails. For many years Kay would travel with two friends she met on Pandaw, Mickie Allen and Joan Hamilton. All in their eighties, on more than one occasion they had to be told to keep the late night noise down. Mickie passed away some years ago, leaving her not inconsiderable fortune to British lifeboats (the RNLI). Joan, I am glad to say, remains a regular Pandaw passenger.

Kay was very much loved by the Pandaw II crew and she certainly loved them back, taking an interest in their families and lives ashore. In one case Kay provided for a terminally ill former crew member, even bringing him to Blackpool for a holiday. Kay was from early days a very strong supporter of the Pandaw Charity projects. On my birthday each year she would send a particularly generous cheque to help our projects along. A successful career doctor, Kay became involved in the set up and running of Pandaw Clinics. There are now five of these within a thirty-mile radius of Pagan.

I have asked Kay’s family if they would agree to us establishing a new clinic in memory of Kay and they have agreed. We have selected Oatkyaung village near Pagan. I now ask all Kay’s old friends and fellow passengers to dig deep in their pockets and help build the ‘Dr Kay Helm Clinic’ at Oatkyaung. Estimates for construction are US$7000 and a further $5000 would be needed for basic equipment, which would include an ECG and an ultrasonic scanner.

Our online donations page is not yet set up for gift aid but non-UK taxpayers are welcome to donate through this channel and drop me an email to say they want the funds to go to the Dr Kay Helm Clinic.

Surely the secret of Kay’s longevity was her morning pint of ale, taken on the sun deck as …the wind was in the palm trees and the temple bells they say / Come you back to Mandalay / Where the Old Flotilla lay

Kay’s family plan to travel to Burma early next year to scatter her ashes on the Irrawaddy. At the same time they will open the Dr Kay Helm Clinic.

Paul Strachan can be reached at [email protected].