Ambassador's search ends with a sad discovery

The second Tweet, posted on Saturday.
The second Tweet, posted on Saturday.
  • Britain's top diplomat in Spain, Hugh Elliott, hopes to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis after a search launched on Twitter came up against the illness

British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott could not have predicted the outcome of his search for a woman who helped him 35 years ago in Burgos.

Last week, coinciding with his visit to northern Spain, the ambassador posted a video on social media explaining how he wanted to find a woman from Burgos, Lourdes Arnaiz, who took him into her home 35 years ago when he had nowhere to stay en route to Santiago de Compostela.

Now, as British ambassador in her country, he wanted to thank her again for her kindness. His appeal was successful; Hugh found news of Lourdes but was unable to deliver his thanks. She had died when she was just 35 years old, after suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The ambassador posted a second video last Saturday explaining his sad discovery.

He learned of Lourdes' illness and death from her brother Alfonso, whom Hugh also met in Burgos during that first visit to Spain of which he holds such fond memories.

Despite the sad outcome, Hugh and Alfonso agreed to share the story to help raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, an illness that is "devastating" for both sufferers and their families, the ambassador explains. Now he calls for all those who helped his search when his first message received an "overwhelming, unexpected and kind" response, to also do their bit for the battle against the disease.

In Burgos, and all over Spain, there are associations for multiple sclerosis patients and their relatives, and the British ambassador has encouraged everyone who can to contribute, either as a volunteer or with a donation, to help them provide their services to users.

The ambassador admits in his post that he cried "more than a little" when he learned of Lourdes' death, as he supposed the many others who helped him with his search would do when they saw his message.

He said that his contact with Alfonso (who lives with his family in Burgos) had been friendly, and they agreed to make the most of the opportunity to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis.

"Many of us know someone who is affected," said the ambassador, who also shared links for associations in Burgos, Santiago de Compostela, Salamanca (where he worked as a young man) and the national organisation. "It's the least we can do for Lourdes," he said.

No bike and no money

The story of how Hugh and Lourdes' paths crossed was revealed in his Tweet last week. In a video the ambassador explained how he arrived in Burgos in 1984 by train from Carcassonne in France. He had been following the Camino de Santiago but decided to go by train to Burgos and continue from there.

His bike, however, did not arrive on the same train; he had little money and no means to get to the nearest campsite where he could put up his tent. His luck changed however when he met a Canadian who had gone to Burgos to visit his girlfriend, Lourdes. She and her brother did not hesitate to take the young British man into their home for the five days it took him to recover his bike. He never forgot her kindness.