Rosemary Kavan was born in Islington, London in 1923. Having graduated from a Teachers’ Training College she taught in a school in Leicester. Towards the end of the Second World War she married Pavel Kavan, then an officer in the Czechoslovak Army fighting alongside the Allies. Shortly after the end of the war she arrived in her new country in Central Europe but soon afterwards returned to London where Pavel began to works as the press officer and later as charge d’affaires at the Czechoslovak Embassy. By the time her husband was suddenly recalled to Prague in November 1950, they already had two sons. Following his return to Prague, Kavan was arrested and later sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonmnent in the main Czech Stalinist show trial. As the ‘imperialist wife of a traitor’, Rosemary had to accept a number of menial jobs. Pavel was released after almost four years but in a bad state of health and a few years later died at the age of forty-six.
During the 1960s Rosemary taught at Prague University, tranlsated several Czech books into English and worked as the editor of an English language journal, Czechoslovak Life. At that time, through her son Jan, she established contacts with the leaders of the student movement which she later used after the 1968 invasion, to help human rights opposition groups. Just before her intended arrest for these activities she escaped to England where she continued to help the opposition by translating Charter 77 documents and books by banned authors.
In 1973 she married a painter, Richard Haughton-James, and moved with him to Italy. On 1 November she succumbed to cancer, in London, at the age of fifty-eight.