Louisa Benson Craig, an inspirational Karen community leader and former Miss Burma, passed away after a long battle with cancer in California on Feb. 2. She was 69.
Born in Rangoon in 1941 to a Portuguese and his Karen wife, Louisa became renowned for her beauty and won the Miss Burma contest twice––in 1956 and 1958. She also acted in a number of Burmese films.
|Beauty queen and rebel Naw Louisa (Photo: Karen Museum) |
After studying in Boston in the USA, she returned to Burma and in 1964 married Lin Htin, the former Brigade 5 commander of the Karen National Union (KNU's) military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army. Lin Htin was responsible for an attack in 1961 on the Thai border town of Mae Sot, but had surrendered with Saw Hunter Tha Mwe to the Burmese government in 1963.
Louisa was among the Burmese beauty queens who were once reportedly invited for a dinner with Gen Ne Win, the infamous Burmese dictator who seized power in 1962.
After her husband was killed by Burmese soldiers in 1965, she led his 5th Brigade back into revolution. In 1967, she married an American, Glen Craig, and settled in California. She was a founder member of the Burma Forum and a board member with the US Campaign for Burma. In recent years she suffered from brain cancer.
Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the KNU, said she met with Naw Louisa three times in 2003-04, the latest meeting being in northern Karen State. She described Naw Louisa as a very active person who loved her Karen people and loved working for them.
“She encouraged us to work hard for the Karen people and was very active,” Zipporah Sein said. “I believe she worried about the Karen in Burma until the final days of her life.”
Louisa Benson Craig constantly lobbied for the Karen resistance movement, raising the profile of the plight of internally displaced Karen people in conflict zones in Karen State and encouraging unity among Burma's ethnic peoples. She was known as a staunch supporter of federalism in Burma.
A statement by the US Campaign for Burma on Wednesday read: “It has been an honor to have Louisa Benson Craig as part of the US Campaign for Burma family. Her decades of service to the Free Burma movement and plight of the Karen people has brought much needed attention, hope and inspiration to those of us who will continue the struggle for a free and democratic Burma.”
Maung Maung Hla, a Karen pastor in Rangoon who was close to Naw Louisa during her youth, remembered her aloud: “She had a little mole on her left cheek and she had a kind heart. She was also a very good singer.”