I was born on 19 September 1929 to Evelyn and Wallace Lamb, in Radlett, Hertfordshire, then a small village in the country, although less than 20 miles from London. My mother came from Pembroke town in South Wales. She was working as a nanny for a naval family in Radlett when she met my father. My paternal grandfather came to Radlett from Romsey, Hampshire, as coachman to Lord Phillimore, who owned most of the village at that time, sometime towards the end of the 1800s.
My mother’s family, whose name was Adams, lived in a large house bought by my grandfather. He was a ship’s carpenter, or shipwright, and worked in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Pembroke Dock. (There was a family rumour of a distant link with the Adamses of Boston, Mass., U.S.A.). My mother’s people were a thrifty, church-going family. They had nine children, my mother being one of the youngest. They were happy, made their own amusements, and when grown-up were all close and supportive to one another. The result is that I am in touch with second and third cousins, and my first cousins took the place of the brothers and sisters I never had.
In 1905 my paternal grandfather opened a fish shop in the village, and my father, after serving an apprenticeship in London, joined him in the business. He was the second son, and had two younger brothers. They lived in a small flat above the shop. My father’s family were not church-goers nor were they thrifty, and later on there were family quarrels, but both sides of my family were independent-minded, generous, would help anyone in trouble, and loved children.
As a child I went to Sunday School, and later to church, sometimes three times on a Sunday. I was a member of the church youth club in my teens, and this was the highlight of my life. I was confirmed, by the Bishop of St. Albans, at the age of 13. However, as I grew older there were some aspects of the Anglican communion which made me uneasy. I couldn’t reconcile a loving God with exclusiveness. I had always been drawn towards people from other countries and was interested in the different cultures and religions of the world, both ancient and modern. I didn’t see why they couldn’t be just as right in their way as we were told that we were in ours. I didn’t want to be “better” than other people in that way.
I won a scholarship to Watford Girls’ Grammar School when I was 11. Had I not luckily succeeded in this, I would have left school at 14, and not met the friend who introduced me to the Bahá’í Faith. My parents could not have afforded to pay for my education, unlike some of their relations, but a few cousins on both sides of the family went to public school.
By the time I left school at 18, having passed the Matriculation Exam, I wasn’t going to church any more, although I still believed in God, and in Christ. I was told about the Bahá’í Faith by Barbara Simmonds (later Lewis) in the early 1950’s. We both worked at Senate House, the administrative centre of the University of London, in Bloomsbury, WC1. Barbara stayed in a boarding house in South Kensington, where there were also a number of Persians. They were, of course, Bahá’ís. Barbara told her friends at work about this interesting religion. I was mostly intrigued by the fact that she had met Persians. I wasn’t seeking anything, like a meaning to life. Maybe I should explain here that my mother had been very ill, sometimes at the point of death, from the time I was 11 years’ old until I left school. My aunts and uncles had helped to look after her, but I was continually worried and upset about her, and used to agonise during the 1939-45 war about what would happen to her if we were invaded, bombed, gassed, or anything else that my too-vivid imagination came up with. So when her health improved, about the same time as I left school and started work in the wide world, I eagerly plunged into all the interesting things of life that London had to offer – concerts, theatres, cinemas, restaurants. I belonged to a Club, the Royal Empire Society (now the Commonwealth Society) in Northumberland Avenue, where I met a lot of those fascinating people, foreigners.
But I gradually became more and more interested in what I learnt about the Bahá’í Faith – gradually, I’m afraid, being the operative word. By the time I went to my first public meeting at Rutland Gate on 24th May 1956 I had married, and had my first baby.
At that time the caretakers at 27 Rutland Gate were two Danes, Bobbie and Egon Kamming, whose son Sven worked in Scotland. They were kind and welcoming and sometimes some of us went upstairs to their lovely flat and had long talks over cups of coffee. I went fairly regularly to the public talks at Rutland Gate after that, and began also going to firesides in different homes. I remember vividly the first fireside I attended, at the home of Rose and John Wade in Barnet. I took my daughter, aged 2 years, and Margaret Wade (then 8 or thereabouts) looked after her while I enjoyed asking questions. Again, the Wades were so friendly and made me feel at home. I was reluctant to leave, that Saturday afternoon. All the Bahá’ís I met were welcoming, warm, interesting, and fun to be with. One could be totally oneself in their company, whatever their age, wherever they came from.
Bahá’í books engrossed and stimulated me and still do. I would describe myself as more intellectual than not, practical, and imaginative (not always an asset, that) and an avid reader. Friends will note that my sitting room looks more like a library, and I am always circulating a good book amongst friends.
There were few Bahá’í books then, compared to nowadays, but everything about the Faith was in them. Many eminent Bahá’ís visited London frequently. I heard Hands of the Cause Mr Furutan and Mr Samandari speak at Rutland Gate, and met Hands of the Cause Agnes Alexander, Mr (General) ‘Alá’í and Mr Khádem. The two Hands permanently in London, John Ferraby and Hasan Balyuzi, were usually at the Rutland Gate public meetings. They were very accessible.
After I became a Bahá’í in April 1958 and had the bounty of going to Haifa on pilgrimage in January 1962, I also met Hands of the Cause Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyíh Khánum, Mr Ioas, Mr Faizi, Mr Haney, Mr Ferraby, and Mr Samandarí again. Later, in London, I heard Hand of the Cause Bill Sears speak at the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Pilgrimage in 1962
Western pilgrims stayed in the Pilgrim House opposite the house of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. We had the privilege then of spending three nights at Bahjí. We visited the Ridván Garden, Mazra’ih and the House of Abbúd. Visiting and saying prayers at the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, saying the Obligatory prayers so close to the Qiblih, seeing the room where Bahá’u’lláh received Professor Browne, just being in Bahjí, was a supreme experience. In a way, it felt like sleep-walking. In another way it didn’t.
From the Pilgrim House in Haifa, the Shrine of the Báb was just up the hill when you looked out of the window of the room where we met every evening, when Ruhiyyíh Khánum, Mr Samandarí, and Mr Faizi would come over and talk to us after dinner. The feeling was of being home at last. Visiting and saying prayers at the Shrine of the Báb and the Shrine of Abdu’l-Bahá was something you wanted to go on for ever. Visiting the Archives, viewing the portraits of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, sitting alone in the room where Abdu’l-Bahá ascended – memories still fresh in my mind. We had lunch with Rúhíyyih Khánum one day; the sparseness and economy demonstrated in that room and in her way of life made a deep impression, and I think surprised everyone.
The Most Great Prison subdued our spirits; sadness was felt at the bleakness and harshness of it all.
At the Pilgrim House we also met Jessie and Ethel Revell, Mrs Ioas, Mrs Faizi, Mrs Ferraby and Mrs Haney. They joined us at mealtimes, and we went into Haifa with some of them. Ian Semple, whom I knew already from my first Edinburgh days, was also in Haifa by 1962, serving on the International Bahá’í Council. Fujita, the Japanese gardener, was there, his room full of caged birds who sang sweetly and almost continuously during the day. The nine days of Pilgrimage went very swiftly. There was one extra bounty I felt, and that was on the first anniversary of the death of my father, 17th January. I was able to pray for his soul in the Shrine of the Báb, and to thank Bahá’u’lláh for being able to do so. I used to see a beautiful baby in a pram near the Eastern Pilgrim house by the Shrine of the Báb when visiting that Holy Place – this was the daughter of Hand of the Cause Dr Muhajir. We also visited the recently acquired site of the future Temple in Haifa on Mount Carmel, a triangle of land with the sea on two sides. Mr Ioas had had much hard bargaining to do before negotiations were brought to a successful conclusion for that piece of land.
At the Rutland Gate Thursday evening meetings in London I met Ted Cardell, Marion and David Hofman, John and Rose Wade, and their daughters Christine (who later married an Iranian medical student and went to live in Iran), and Margaret; Meherangiz, Jyoti and Eruch Munsiff, Bobbie Leedham (who pioneered to Fiji in the mid-sixties, then married a Canadian Bahá’í, Don MacLaren, from Vancouver). Barbara, Bobbie and Meherangiz were my chief teachers before and after I accepted the Faith. Evelyn Rous (Dodd), who also worked at Senate House, became a Bahá’í shortly before me. We must have tried the patience of the others at No. 27, going regularly to meetings, but taking so long to commit ourselves. Betty Reed was there too, of course, Kathleen Hyett, and many Persians whose names I can’t remember. Bernard Leach gave a talk one week. Another evening we had dinner with Richard St. Barbe Baker at the Mill Hill home of Mr and Mrs Nazar.
Professor Zeine Zeine from the American University in Beirut spent a sabbatical in London in the mid-fifties. He was featured in the “Observer” Diary one Sunday, much to my delight. He was often at Rutland Gate. Barbara invited me to a fireside to be given by him, at which Daniel Jordan, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, told us how he became a Bahá’í. He had been to many Bahá’í events in America, but did not commit himself until he came to Balliol College, Oxford. As he entered the College library for the first time, he saw as he went through the door a shelf full of books by Shoghi Effendi (Balliol bought all the books written by its ex-students for the library). Dan said he felt that this was more than coincidence, that it was a voice saying “now are you going to become a Bahá’í?” which he did almost immediately. When the Bahá’í world heard of his tragic death twenty or so years later, I remembered the eager, dark young student with a brilliant smile.
Just after my acceptance of the Faith in Radlett, I went to Edinburgh with our two young children to join my husband, who had been teaching at the University since October 1957, in the Department of Phonetics. I was the tenth Bahá’í in the community, and was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly. The others there were Ian Semple, prior of course to his becoming a member of the Universal House of Justice, Roshan Aftabi (Knox) who was a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh to Goa; Nooshin Nafezi, a niece of Hand of the Cause Musa Banani, and so a cousin of Violette Nakhjavani. Violette visited Nooshin in Edinburgh, with her two young children, and we met her. Dr Javid, who was studying for his Fellowship, his wife and two young children were there only for another few months. Dr Mehraban Firoozmand and his wife Pari, with their sons Farhad and Shahram, filled their place in the following October (they came to Scotland from pioneering in Turkey), Mrs Gwen Thompson, a Canadian who had married a Scot; Florence Altass an elderly lady, Aziz Azizi, an Iranian student, and James Robertson, a retired chemist, who had heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speak when He visited Edinburgh in 1913, made up the community. Mr Robertson later pioneered to Malta, where he ended his days.
We held LSA meetings every two weeks, observed Feasts and Holy Days, and held weekly firesides. Hasan Balyuzi, John Ferraby, David Hofman, Meherangiz Munsiff, Mrs Shirin Fozdar, Mrs Betty Reed, Owen Battrick, Dermod Knox, Charles Macdonald from Belfast, Adib Taherzadeh from Dublin, visited us to speak at public meetings, often more than once, during my seven years in Edinburgh. Ian used to give talks also, and Aldi Robarts, son of Hand of the Cause John Robarts, gave a talk at which there were several students present.
The chronology of new Bahá’ís during my first year there is not accurate, but Sheila and Don Cooper, and three nurses who worked with Nooshin, one English and two German, became Bahá’ís. Scotland only had two Assemblies then – Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I believe Ada Williams was the pioneer to Motherwell. About 1959/60 Ann Robinson, who, with her husband, owned the Nile Grove Hotel in Morningside, and her friend Kay Turner, became Bahá’ís. This was the result of a visit Ann had made to her eldest daughter who had emigrated to Canada with her Jugoslav sculptor husband, Zeljko Kugungcic, and their children. Zeljko used to go to Bahá’í meetings in Edinburgh. When Ann returned she and Kay came to meetings regularly, asked many questions (they were both practising Christians) and after some months they both decided to become Bahá’ís. Andy Syme, Rita Pepper, Eric Hellicar, a student (now in Cyprus), Jock and Hilda Cunningham, all became Bahá’ís round about 1961. Paul Adams, Knight of Bahá’u’lláh to Spitzbergen, came to study at the University about 1962 or 1963. Other new Bahá’ís about that time, or a little later (1963-64), were Elaine and Calum Grant and their son Roderick, and Commander John More-Nisbet, who had met Meherangiz Munsiff on a train to Edinburgh and subsequently attended firesides. Earlier (1960-61) Angela Anderson had become a Bahá’í. She came to a talk given by Owen Battrick, returning for the fireside in the evening. Angela pioneered to Africa, where she met with an accident, and shortly afterwards died and was buried in Dorking, Surrey.
An extension teaching goal was to open North Berwick to the faith. Several of us held firesides there, but I left Edinburgh (May 1965) before any results were apparent. Aberdeen was also opened, in the early 1960’s, by Don and Sheila Cooper, but unfortunately they had to return because Don couldn’t find work, and they had no other means of support. A Canadian family, the Beatties, settled in Aberdeen a bit later. Stan and Joyce Fox and family left the Salvation Army to become Bahá’ís. They later pioneered to Peterhead.
We used to put quotations from the Writings in the “Scotsman” regularly, and advertised our public meetings. We also tried press releases for Holy Days, and visiting speakers. One World Religion Day (1960) was held in the George Hotel. We had books for sale and pamphlets on a table and were expecting our usual audience, six or seven non-Bahá’ís and the friends. To our delight and astonishment the room filled up, and it was a good and lively meeting. Eric Hellicar was there, also the Cunninghams, although Jock had already knocked on Don and Sheila’s door asking for information about the Faith.
In 1962 the friends began research into ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Edinburgh in January 1913, prior to producing a pamphlet for the 50th anniversary of this great bounty. My part was to look through the papers of the time for articles and reports on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit, where He went, whom He met. It took some time because I read the articles over and over again, fascinated by being transported back to that time. We had a precious unexpected gift, too, because the Theosophical Society had a photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, signed on the back, which they kindly gave to us. After a lot of hard work by everyone on the Local Spiritual Assembly, the pamphlet was produced on time.
Also in January 1963 the Hand of the Cause Mr Leroy Ioas visited Edinburgh. Although I was one of the group who met him when he arrived, I can’t remember the programme for him. It was obviously linked to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit. I think I was unable to attend meetings because of commitments at the university. My husband never became a Bahá’í, and it was difficult to get to Bahá’í meetings because of other engagements.
The Edinburgh Bahá’ís visited each other socially as well as on Bahá’í occasions. We had coffee together, lunch sometimes, and dropped in on each other, mixing with each other’s families, which made for a happy, united community. Maybe one’s first Bahá’í community is always in some way special. Edinburgh was very special to me.
In 1965 my husband was invited to work on a project at University College, London, and we left Edinburgh to live in Radlett (Hertsmere) once again. I was the only Bahá’í there in 1965, although my friends and family knew about the Faith. The Firoozmands were living in Watford, five miles away, and I went to meetings there, also to Rutland Gate sometimes, but was not as active as I had been in Edinburgh. My third and last child was born in November 1963. We moved house three times in five years, and my mother came to live with us permanently in 1967. So family responsibilities, plus the fact that I couldn’t drive (local bus times were difficult) meant that I missed a lot of Bahá’í activities.
By 1970 we were on the move again. My husband Ken had a lectureship in the Linguistics Department at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. We bought a house just outside Menai Bridge on Anglesey. Although Dr Ernest Miller from Liverpool had a holiday house on Anglesey, I was the first permanent resident Bahá’í there. Kevin Beint had pioneered to Bangor some years earlier, and we had wanted to live in Bangor, but couldn’t find a house there. Kevin had married Mina, a beautiful Persian girl, and so doubled the number of Bahá’ís in his goal town. They held a fireside every Tuesday, to which my daughter, Catherine, and I went every week. A lot of students came to these firesides, several of whom became Bahá’ís in time. Fuad Ta’eed, from Shrewsbury, joined the University and sometime later married another student, Gill, who came to the firesides (they pioneered to Papua New Guinea and are now living in Tasmania).
Derwent Maude from Ceredigion gave a talk in Bangor in the autumn of 1970. One of the enquirers there was Susan Ensor, from Menai Bridge, who came to firesides, and accepted the Faith the following summer. After a combination of people pioneering to Anglesey and several declarations, we were able to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í of Anglesey on March 20th 1975 in Susan’s home. Betty Goode represented the National Spiritual Assembly at that meeting.
In September 1975 my husband, myself and our younger son, David, aged nearly 12, went to Graz, in Austria, for a year. My husband was guest Professor in the University Department of Linguistics, but we returned once more to Anglesey in the autumn of 1976. Happily by that time, following in his father’s footsteps, David was not only fluent in Welsh, but Austro German as well.
There followed several years of energised growth activity in North Wales, when lots of young people came into the Faith. We held regular firesides, and mounted a series of Bahá’í book exhibitions in various libraries – Llangefni, Criccieth, Colwyn Bay (an extension teaching goal) and Caernarfon. We organised public talks. We planted trees, held fund-raising events, deepenings and launched National youth events in Beaumaris.
Many challenges faced our newly formed Spiritual Assembly, sometimes with painful social problems and relationship traumas. One of the tragedies we shared was the sad death of dear John Turner Jnr., who was killed in a head on car collision. The Turner family had pioneered to Ynys Mon in the late 1970’s and the churchyard in the market town of Llangefni already claimed the bones of John Turner Snr. and Lou Turner’s beloved mother Hagar Wall. John was interred in Colwyn Bay cemetery close to where he had died in February 1979 and shortly after that, Lou’s daughter-in-law, Zoe, and grandchild, Anisa completed their planned pioneering post to the same area.
Whilst I would like to think that my own personal and spiritual battles gave me the experience and tenacity to serve more capably as one of the elder members of the ‘baby assembly’, it was as always the guidance from the Writings, which helped us to turn the corner. None of us had experienced serious community problems before. But it was a learning process for our growth, as all tests are. Several people left the Faith, but the ones who stayed seemed stronger for the testing.
One of the ways in which I have been able to serve the Faith has been through my secretarial career. I began by working as a clerk in Senate House, the administrative centre of the University of London. After having my family, I later went on to be a secretary to a rather interesting Belgian media solicitor, Oscar Beuselinck. This gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with such stars as Sean Connery. However, one of my more exciting jobs was to be secretary to Professor Tim Miles at Bangor University’s Dyslexia Unit. We saw the implementation of The Tizzard report, which meant that people diagnosed with dyslexia could be awarded extra time during exams. The skills I picked up in those fascinating jobs stood me in good stead when I regularly found myself serving as Bahá’í community secretary.
My perennial interest in the international scene and the voluntary sector drew me to join the local United Nations Association and several of my UNA friends became very familiar with the Faith as the Bahá’ís of Anglesey sometimes helped with the fund raising.
In 1985 we moved to Upper Bangor, near the Bahá’í Centre in College Road, which was dedicated to the recent Bahá’í martyrs in Iran. The Arfon community covered a wider area and was therefore more scattered than that of Ynys Môn. We held firesides, unit conventions, deepenings, at the Centre, and welcomed visitors, including Jan Mughrabi, Marion Hofman, John Butler, Charles and Yvonne MacDonald.
I joined the Bangor UNA, and worked at Oxfam two mornings a month. I wasn’t shy to talk about the faith openly to whomever I met, but apart from one or two phrases, I never did master the Welsh language, so important in North Wales.
Reaching out to the Welsh-speaking majority of North Wales was always a challenge, but we had a Bahá’í stall at each National Eisteddfod held in North Wales (bi-annually). Ena Coulson from Dyffryn Ardydwy could always be relied on to play hostess and chat to people in Welsh at these events, even when she was confined to a wheelchair.
With the help of contacts of our Welsh speaking Bahá’í, Dafydd Owen and Dewi Hughes, we printed a Welsh prayer book and a Welsh “Promise of World Peace”, also small pamphlets about the Faith in Welsh. We put pamphlets on a table in the hall of the public library in Bangor and advertised firesides and talks.
I am glad now that I had the perseverance to find Dafydd’s house where he was lodging in Bangor, a bit out of town, and to drop him an invitation to our Naw-Rúz party. Dafydd came, and became a Bahá’í shortly afterwards. It just goes to prove that the little things matter.
The Arfon community fluctuated widely as students came and went from the University and people pioneered or left the area. Sadly we were unable to keep the Bahá’í Centre in College Road. It became a great burden and deflected us from teaching. But we had a lovely relationship with the Quakers and often hired their Meeting House for public meetings and holy day events.
We moved to Sheffield in June 1990, partly to be nearer to our elder son, Mark, who lived there, and to our daughter who lived in Grimsby, and their families. It was the first time I had belonged to a big Bahá’í community, and in a city.
I thrived on the affection and buzz of the very active Sheffield Community and soon found myself secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly and being part of the teamwork reaching out to official bodies and joining in interfaith activities. Sheffield has a rich multicultural society and is famed as a ‘city of sanctuary’. I wasn’t surprised when our little interfaith group blossomed into the larger Faiths Forum.
Meeting Lord Mayors, Members of Parliament and officials became a commonplace occurrence and I felt that my burning interest in International affairs and justice helped me have the confidence to speak to anybody about the Bahá’í Faith. The Holy writings are so intellectually sound, well reasoned and balanced that you feel by reiterating them, intelligent people will take note, so there is never any fear of feeling inferior amongst influential, well educated and powerful people.
Our Local Assembly met members of the Inner Cities Religious Council and national Christian organisations whose meetings have been held in Sheffield. We were invited to a lunch with one of the Ministers for the Environment and had to introduce ourselves as Bahá’ís, which was satisfying.
I became very involved with UNA in Sheffield, and was chosen as the “non-Christian”(!) member to sit on the Committee which organised the 50th Anniversary Conference of the UN, which was held in the city. My job was to prepare readings for the re-dedication service at the end of the conference, as well as to help on reception and show people to their rooms at the beginning of it. The re-dedication service was an opportunity to include something from the Programme for World Peace.
I became involved in the Sheffield NSPCC and also served many a meal at the local luncheon club for the elderly as well as serving on the committee of Netheredge Neighbourhood Group. Everywhere I went I made sure that people knew a little about the Bahá’í teachings. Serving the wider community always gives one so many opportunities to teach the faith.
My voluntary work and Bahá’í secretarial duties had to come to an end when I became carer for my husband Ken, who was diagnosed with osteoporosis. The daily battle would have been intolerable without the support of statutory carers, my family, the local Bahá’í friends, voluntary organisations and, of course, that wonderful sustenance from the holy writings.
My husband Ken was in his eighties when he became so cruelly ill, but he was glad of the stimulating visits of the Bahá’ís, who gave him an opportunity to review his life achievements and have intellectual conversations. Ken always liked my Bahá’í friends, but they knew there was little chance of Ken’s changing his atheistic views. However, he was offered love and tolerance and he came to value Bahá’í in the end, especially enjoying the visits of Phil Croft, who serenaded him with his accordion.
I have been a widow now for several years and cannot stress how important pastoral care is in the Bahá’í Community. I know that I can rely on lifts to Bahá’í events and that when I am low in spirits, I can pick up the phone and chat to so many wonderful friends about deep and meaningful or even trivial things.
We cannot be sure when the seeds we have sown will mature and bear fruit, but I like to think that the many seeds I have scattered both on home ground and in the many different countries visited on travels with my husband Ken, have helped to nurture universal fellowship.
When Bahá’í Marriage was recognised in Scotland, the Scottish Secretary of State was Bruce Millan. Sadly he died recently, but he was a personal friend of ours, so maybe the fact that he knew about the Faith already, had an influence on Bahá’í Marriage being recognised?
I have no message to pass on to future Bahá’ís except to give them my love. Everything is in the Writings, and each person is different and so are their experiences and reactions.
As time passes and the administration of the Faith grows and develops in different ways, the picture of the future becomes clearer, more exciting and more and more sure. I am glad to have the chance of serving at this time, when the dawn is just breaking and becoming brighter, but being a Bahá’í at any time at all is something to cherish and to be grateful for.