Jackie Mehrabi: I was born Jacqueline Thomas on 24th January 1939 at 119 Holmes Avenue, Hove, Sussex, in the year war broke out. The first few years of my life are very vivid in my memory because of the tense atmosphere, especially when my parents were listening to the News on the radio. It seems we were on the flight path of occasional enemy planes returning from bombing raids on London, and my youngest brother and I slept most nights under a government-issued reinforced metal table in the dining room. An unexploded bomb landed in a tree down our street, and I remember playing with other children in the ruins of a house nearby that was hit and didn’t have a roof anymore. When I was two or three, I clearly remember being taken to the windmill at the top of our road where gas masks were being handed out. Mine was red and blue and was supposed to look like Mickey Mouse, but it was the real thing and I hated the rubbery, suffocating smell when I tried it on. Fortunately, we never needed to use them. But there were other unexpected dangers, and my mother told me how she was pushing me in my pram down the middle of the empty road outside our house one day when an enemy plane flew low overhead and attacked us with a shower of bullets which bounced all around the pram but miraculously didn’t kill us. My mother said she lost her power of speech for more than a week, she was so shocked.
My parents were Violet and Henry John (“Jack”) Thomas. My father was born in 1889 and my mother ten years later. I was the youngest of six children, my siblings being Denis, Brian, Pamela, Alan and Michael. Our parents instilled high principles and a sense of self-worth in all of us without ever preaching. My father’s father was English and his mother was Scottish and he served with the London-Scottish army regiment during the First World War and I have a great photo of him in his kilt with other members of his regiment. He suffered for the remainder of his life from ill-health caused by being gassed in the trenches. For most of his life he worked as a branch manager of a soft drinks’ firm called Dawes. During the last seven years he owned a small shop and Post Office in Arundel, Sussex, and ran it with my mother. Our religious background was Church of England, although my parents were not regular church-goers and I was only occasionally sent to Sunday school, and only then when they wanted a peaceful Sunday afternoon! I was, however, always conscious of their unquestioned belief in God, and from my earliest memories I felt God was a comforting presence with me every day and I used to talk to Him. When I was five and started school, a vicar told us that Jesus would return one day, which made me very excited because I had always wished I had been alive when He came the first time.
I had a great deal of freedom as a child, being allowed to roam with my friends over the South Downs, and (after the mines had been cleared from the beaches) spend all day swimming in the sea or exploring the caves along the coast. I was a tomboy, I suppose, having four brothers, and enjoyed reading the younger ones Just William and Biggles books. I spent a great deal of time sitting in the top branches of the elm trees which lined our street and were as high as the three-storey houses, taking a book and bag of carrots with me. And I remember one day, when I was about eight, going to school with my mother’s washing line wound round my middle under my dress in case of adventures. (On that occasion the washing line ended up being used as a skipping rope that stretched right across the playground and was long enough for 20 children to skip in and out of it at the same time! My long-suffering mother spent all day looking for it!)
I loved horses, and from the age of twelve, when I was living in Arundel, I used to help out in a local stable, grooming the horses and taking groups of riders out. I was never paid but instead learnt to ride, for which I was very grateful as my parents could not afford the money for lessons, which were very expensive. Before school at six every morning I would fetch as many as five horses at a time from a field outside the town and bring them back to the stable – riding the middle one bareback and holding the rope halters of four more – two on either side. It was impossible to control so many horses properly and they would end up galloping down the main street as we got near to the stables, waking the whole town up, according to one of my teachers who lived there!
I was always at my happiest being outside rather than in. It made me feel closer to God.
I remember at this time, when I was 12 or 13, being invited to a Catholic church by a girl who worked full-time in the stable. The church was quite dark as the highly decorated windows were high up and let in little light, the service was mostly in Latin, and the air was heavy with incense. Then, suddenly, halfway through the service, the heavy wooden door of the Church opened, and a ray of sunshine and a tramp came in. He was wearing a long coat tied with string and had autumn leaves in his long, unkempt hair, as though he had just woken up from sleeping in the wood. The priest stopped talking and smiled a welcome, but some of the congregation turned to glare in disapproval when the tramp did not slip quietly into a back pew but walked with head held high and with great dignity to the front row, where the nuns were sitting, and sat down beside them. After ten minutes or so he quietly rose and walked out again, taking the sunshine with him. It had been a beautiful moment. This was what God was all about, I thought. Not ritual and preaching and exclusivity and disapproval. Not God locked up in a church.
I was fascinated by religion due to my great love for books, not just their content, but also the materials used in making them, which were often exquisite, especially in older books, with their soft leather covers, finely stitched bindings and gold-edges paper. I just loved the smell and feel of them! I used to spend all my pocket money in second-hand book shops, where inadvertently (because I bought some solely on the strength of their appearance) I discovered such treasures as The Bhagavad-Gita and other scriptures, and lovely, spiritual poetry, both western and translated from eastern languages, none costing more than a few pence at that time. I was such a frequent visitor to the shop in Arundel, the owner used to put books aside for me when he found one he thought I would like. I would open the beautiful covers and discover even greater beauty inside!
Another different kind of book which left a deep impression me, and which I had read when I was 11, was All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of a nineteen-year-old German soldier who was a creative and sensitive young man, and who, I realised, was no different from my two oldest brothers who had served in the British army during the Second World War. It gave me an early insight into the fundamental oneness of the human race and taught me not to judge individuals by the politics of their countries.
After moving to Arundel I attended school in nearby Littlehampton. Then, after taking my “O” level exams at 16, I went to the High School for Girls in Worthing to do my “A” levels, and this is where I met Joyce Lee. Her parents (Joseph and Elsie Lee) and their six children (Malcolm, Joyce, Barbara, David, Peter and Ian) had pioneered to Shoreham, near Brighton, the other side of Worthing to where I lived. Joyce was a year older than I was and studying different subjects, so we did not know each other well, but one day in January 1956, when we were both in the school library, she noticed I was reading a Teach Yourself Arabic book and that started a discussion between us about religion, which is when she told me she was a Bahá’í and my life changed in an instant.
The reason I was trying to learn Arabic was because of a dream I’d had about a group of beautiful wild Arab horses, all of different shades, and somewhere in the dream was a holy figure who faded in and out, and who at the time I had taken to be Muhammad as He was wearing Arab clothing and I did not know then about the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh. I loved Christ but had already found the same truth in other religions and could not accept that just one of them was right and all the others wrong. But it was like a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing to complete the picture. I knew it existed and that one day I would find it. I didn’t know how, but when I woke up from my dream, I knew that somehow Arabic was the key that would lead me to the truth I was seeking. Which it did, because otherwise Joyce and I may never have had that conversation. She gave me a yellow booklet called The Bahá’í Faith, which contained some teachings and quotations, and it went straight to my heart. A day or two later, she gave me a copy of Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, and I found all my remaining questions answered. But I never did learn Arabic!
When I read the booklet Joyce gave me, I knew at once I had found the answer. It felt as though I was travelling through a tunnel of light towards Bahá’u’lláh until I was dazzled as though by a thousand suns. And afterwards, on my way home from school that day, everyone I saw seemed to be bathed in a golden glow and I couldn’t stop smiling at them! I can still see some of the faces of people at the bus stop looking back at me in puzzlement.
When I told Joyce that I wanted to be a Bahá’í, she duly reported back to her father who sent a succession of wonderful books for me to read, including Shoghi Effendi’s The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh and the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Each time I returned a book saying I still wanted to be a Bahá’í, I was given another one to read! Eventually, I was asked to write a letter (which was the procedure in those days) and given a card to sign. It was the month of Nur, June 1956, and I was 17. I received unbounded love and nurturing from the Lee family and my thanks can never be adequate for they truly gave me eternal life. And I have always been especially grateful for the deepening they gave me on the Covenant from the very beginning, which has been my most precious protection.
My father, although he was concerned about my being a Bahá’í because he did not understand it, lovingly paid for me to go for three weeks to a Bahá’í summer school in Glynllifon, North Wales in the August of that year. Summer schools were much longer then. And when I came back with a Bahá’í ring-stone, he paid to have it made into a ring for me because he knew how much it meant to me. He had a great trust in all his children, and he respected the Faith because I believed in it, and this touched me deeply, and still does.
My mother too did her best for me. She would tell all the customers who came into the shop that I had become a Bahá’í, but when they asked her what it was about, she always forgot what to say, so I wrote a short description on a piece of paper which she kept on a shelf under the counter where she could glance down and read it! During my first Fast, my dear mother got up long before dawn to wake me up and cook a good breakfast for me, thinking I would oversleep and starve otherwise! Years later, when she was widowed and in her 80’s and living alone in Eastbourne, she made her own way to at least one Bahá’í fireside.
Although my brothers and sister had similar views and attitudes to me, they did not become Bahá’ís. I think they did respect it, though, and they never spoke against it.
I had some unexpected reactions at school. My best friend disapproved and reacted by become involved in the Welsh Chapel, although she had never shown any interest in it before. I gave Some Answered Questions to the head religious teacher, thinking she would find it interesting, but when she returned it to me a few days later, she was terribly upset, so much so that she was actually shaking, saying it was highly dangerous! (However, she was a good person, very sincere, and I remember her with great affection.) As a school prize for passing our `A’ levels, the six-form pupils were told they could choose a book to a certain value, so I asked for a copy of The Kitáb-i-Iqán, which I received a year later beautifully inscribed by my bewildered headmistress!
In the year or two following, I served on the National Youth Committee for a while and helped produce The Voice of Youth magazine. There were not many youth in the country then and we all knew each other and met up for weekend schools or days out. In 1957 I was at a youth spring school in Bournemouth and we received a message, dated Haifa, 27 April 1957, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi by R. Rabbani (Rúhíyyih Khánum), which ended with the words: “He expects great things of you!” This was followed by a postscript written by the beloved Guardian which said:
May the Almighty guide your steps, bless your devoted
and deeply appreciated endeavours, and graciously
assist you to win great victories in the days to come,
Your true brother,
This was written just six months before Shoghi Effendi’s passing from this world. Although I did not have the opportunity to go on pilgrimage and meet the Guardian, I felt very close to him. We all did. His love flowed out to us through his many messages of encouragement, praise and guidance as though they were addressed to each one of us individually.
[Note: Daryoush contributed his input in an interview before he passed away in 1997. Ed.]
Daryoush Mehrabi: I was born on 6th January 1927 in Kerman, Iran. My father was of the Zoroastrian religion. My grandfather and my mother were Bahá’ís and they brought me up as my father left the family to work in England as an import/export merchant soon after I was born. I have one brother, two years older, who is a Zoroastrian. When my grandfather became a Bahá’í in 1920, he received a beautiful Tablet from `Abdu’l-Bahá. The following is an unauthorized translation of the first few lines where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “Dinar in the Arabic tongue means pure gold. Praised be to God, you are also of pure gold, whose coin is stamped with the Greatest Name and adorned with the praises and attributes of the Ancient Beauty. What bounty is there greater than this?”
At the Zoroastrian school I attended we would always talk about religion. There were only two or three Bahá’ís at the school and sometimes we suffered verbal abuse about our faith. Opposition happened when I came to Britain and was working for my father from 1951 until 1955. My father tried to convert me to be a Zoroastrian, and when I wouldn’t be converted, he told me that we couldn’t work together and that I should leave.
To obtain permission from the government to stay in this country, I needed to have worked for my father for four years, and this time had now passed so I was able to stay. I had always wanted to pioneer out of London, so when the restriction on my stay was lifted, I went to Nottingham for two years and lived in Shakespeare Street, near the railway station. At that time there were eight Bahá’ís living in Nottingham, and I made the ninth. I remember Derek and Doreen Watkins, who later pioneered to Australia, and Aileen Beale, who was then an elderly lady. Nuri Sabet was studying nearby and his sister Goli was studying nursing in Nottingham. From Nottingham I pioneered to Orkney in 1957.
Passing of Shoghi Effendi
Daryoush: In November 1957, I was privileged to go to the funeral of the Guardian. That day three of us travelled from Nottingham (which I was visiting at that time) by train to London and then to Arnos Grove. When we arrived we went to the chapel where prayers were being said. The coffin was brought out and we followed it and the procession to the graveside where all the Bahá’ís were standing around. Rúhíyyih Khánum requested that anyone who wanted to pay homage to their Guardian for the last time could do so, and everybody knelt down and prayed and kissed the coffin. After the coffin was lowered into the ground, everybody dispersed. We three (Nuri Sabet, his sister Goli and myself) had to return to Nottingham that night but there was a meeting in the London Centre that evening at which Rúhíyyih Khánum spoke.
Jackie: On the day of the beloved Guardian’s funeral I was training as a nurse at a hospital in Virginia Waters and not able to get away in time for the service, but I went to the cemetery the following day. Among the flowers on the grave was a message of love written by Rúhíyyih Khánum, which said: “From Rúhíyyih and all your loved ones and lovers all over the World whose hearts are broken.” (See the cover of the Special Issue of the UK Bahá’í Journal, dated January 1958.) That evening in the Hazirat’ul-Quds, Khánum gave a very moving talk about the Guardian and anointed everyone with attar of roses. (I have a transcript of that talk from shorthand notes taken by Rose Wade at the time.)
Jackie: Daryoush and I met each other in 1959. I was 20 and had just pioneered to Aberdeen in the Ten Year Crusade as there were no Bahá’ís there at the time. Before starting work (as the secretary of the boss of a firm that made deep-freezers for fishing boats), I decided to visit Shetland for a few days. The boat stopped in Orkney for three hours before sailing on to Shetland, so as I had Daryoush’s address as the Bahá’í who lived in Orkney, I knocked on his door and he invited me in for a cup of tea with himself and his landlady, Mrs Miller. Then I caught the boat again and sailed on to Shetland to visit Brigitte Hasselblatt (later, Lundblade), the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh there.
The way I ended up in Aberdeen was in response to a pioneer appeal made by Marion Hofman and others at Blackpool Teaching Conference in the January of 1959. (By this time I had left my nurse training after the death of my father and was working for a publishing firm in London.)
At first I said I would go to Inverness but then I was told that Harold and Betty Shepherd had offered to go there (or had already gone) so would I like to open Aberdeen instead? These places were just names to me and I knew nothing about them and was happy to go wherever was suggested. When I went to the Teaching Conference it was with no thought of pioneering! It had never occurred to me that I could.
I arrived in Aberdeen on the overnight steam train from London and at first did not have any work or anywhere to stay. But in those days it wasn’t such a problem, so when I got off the train at 8 o’clock in the morning, I bought the local newspaper and phoned three companies who required secretaries. I got interviews for all three that afternoon and accepted a job with one of them. I then spoke to a policeman on traffic duty to see if he knew of any accommodation. He told me to come back later in the day and he would see if he could give me an address. I ended up staying with a Shetland family for a few days and then moving to Rosslyn Terrace, where I rented a room in a house of an Aberdeen family and stayed there for several months, until they discovered I was a Bahá’í and asked me to leave immediately, that day! It was my fault as I had put a quotation about the Faith in the local paper giving my name and their address and forgot to ask if they minded first! It was winter and snowing heavily and I dragged my cases through the streets for several hours before coming to a house with a notice in the window saying there was a room for rent. The landlady was a widow bringing up a daughter who had Down Syndrome and she was very kind to me.
Ian Semple came up to give a talk on the Faith while I was in Aberdeen. We hired the Music Hall in Union Street and advertised it in the Press and Journal newspaper. It was just before Guy Fawkes’ night and a group of scruffy little boys were outside with their “guy” collecting pennies for fireworks. When the doors opened, they all rushed in and sat in the front row. Unfortunately, the caretaker shooed them all out again! Then a group of some 20 serious-looking gentlemen came in. They were Christadelphians and they were all holding Bibles. Ian Semple gave a wonderful talk and at the end the audience fired questions at him, which he answered beautifully, of course. It seems they were not really seekers, but at least they came, and nobody else did (except for the little boys and I did say a prayer for them!).
Another memory I have of Aberdeen is of visiting Peter Esslemont (the brother of Dr John Ebenezer Esslemont who wrote Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era). Peter had an office in a family tea-blending business in Aberdeen, and I think they also produced a brand of toffees. By that time he was nearly ninety and could not see well. He warmly welcomed me and we had a lovely cup of tea together in his little office. He was enormously proud of his brother John. Peter Esslemont did not become a Bahá’í but he had written a book about the Faith called A Life Plan, which was published by George Ronald in 1953, and he gave me a copy, which I still have. He also gave me a book he had written about Scotland’s famous poet Robert Burns. Peter said what he loved about the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and Robert Burns was that they both talked about the brotherhood of mankind.
At one point I met a Shetland girl who was studying in a college in Aberdeen and she was the same age as me. We became good friends and one day when someone asked how many Baha’is there were in Aberdeen and I was about to say ‘one’, she quickly said ‘two’! But then she suddenly left town to get married and we lost touch with one another, and it made me wonder how many souls there are in the world who in their hearts have recognised Bahá’u’lláh and are now even telling their children about Him, and nobody knows anything about them except the Concourse on High.
Whenever Daryoush was passing through Aberdeen on his way south, he would phone me at work. I had a very nice Irish boss who showed some interest in the Faith and was reading Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, and he would let me have time off to see Daryoush. We would have time for a cup of tea or coffee together at the station before the train left. Then I would see him again when he passed through on his way back to Orkney. So this is how we got to know each other. We first met in August 1959 and we got married the following February 1960, and I went to live in Orkney.
Daryoush: Three months after the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade, the Guardian had sent a letter-telegram to the National Spiritual Assembly asking them to send pioneers to the Islands. Because the goal in the Ten year Crusade for the three island groups around the north and west of Scotland was just to open them, Betty Reed told us that the National Spiritual Assembly thought they could leave this goal until the end of the Crusade, but Shoghi Effendi wrote saying to send pioneers to the islands as soon as possible. In 1953, Brigitte Hasselblatt went to Shetland and Geraldine Craney went to Stornoway in the Western Isles. Then Charles Dunning arrived in Orkney. These three were all Knights of Bahá’u’lláh. Charlie wasn’t made very welcome and adults spread unkind rumours about him and some children threw stones.
A few years later, the committee said Charlie should leave Orkney as he was very frail and needed to be looked after, and at the Teaching Conference in 1957 an appeal was made for a pioneer to go to Orkney, and to go as quickly as possible. So I returned to Nottingham (where I was working), gave in my notice and within a week I was gone. Dr Ernest Miller had gone directly to Orkney from the Teaching Conference to do a locum in Orkney and I was advised to go while he was there. He was able to make arrangements for me to stay in the same lodgings as him, 14 Garden Street, Kirkwall. I rode my motorbike to Aberdeen and then took the boat to Orkney. When I arrived, there was a horse-drawn cart at the pier acting as a taxi. I put my luggage on the cart and rode behind on my motorbike to Garden Street, which wasn’t far. Later, when I had to find other accommodation, someone suggested a Mrs Miller who lived at 13 Willowburn Road, and I stayed with her for two years. Then, when Jackie and I married, we rented a room in Queen Street until we bought our house “Carmel’” on New Scapa Road.
When I first went to Orkney, I didn’t have any work, but gradually I learned to mend clocks and with the encouragement of my landlady started to repair watches. I knew a watchmaker (he was retired but owned a shop, Standards, in Nottingham) so I returned there for a week and asked him whether he could teach me. He agreed and helped to set me up by giving me some tools, telling me where to buy things, and showing me the ropes. I was then able to start repairing watches and clocks properly. I arrived back in Orkney and went back to 13 Willowburn Road. It was the last week of February and it was snowing.
Jackie: I visited Orkney for a couple of days over the New Year of 1959/1960, and it was then that Daryoush and I became engaged, and we married in February1960. Very few “outsiders” lived in Orkney then and when we were first married I think there were only about five others. Everybody knew everybody else and life had not changed for decades. We were the only two Bahá’ís there at that time.
There used to be a European and Asian Committee who were responsible for Orkney and Shetland and other islands, like Malta. Betty Reed, Jeannette Battrick, Jean Campbell, Egon Kamming and Micky Mihialoff were all on this committee. Dick Backwell and Ernest Gregory were two of the members of the National Teaching Committee at the time. All were incredibly loving and supportive.
Daryoush: We actually got married in the Hazaratu’l Quds in London as all our relatives were living down south. Ian Semple officiated. The National Spiritual Assembly was meeting there that day, so they all came along too in their break.
When I pioneered to Orkney I experienced some hostility. I was told I should go back to where I came from and that I wasn’t wanted in the islands! When Jackie and I married, we used to go to the one and only cinema in Kirkwall, and as soon as we walked in everyone would stop talking and stare at us.
Jackie: We had three children, Kalim, Pari and Vahid, who were born in 1961, 1962 and 1963. When they went to school they were the only non-Orcadian children there and they all experienced a great deal of prejudice from other children and also from some of the teachers. Kalim, being the oldest, bore the brunt of the racial and religious abuse, and he would get into fights when children ridiculed the Faith and called him names, and he protected his brother and sister in the playground. As for Vahid, when he was about seven he became the target of a fundamentalist Christian teacher who tried to destroy his faith, and it got so bad we had to intervene. And when Pari was five, her teacher said that because she was not a Christian she could not say the Lord’s Prayer which all the other children recited together at the beginning of each day. Although she knew it by heart, she had to remain silent. Pari only told me this when she was grown up. She said that for years she had thought the reason was because she was not good enough.
On a positive note (because it was an innocent act), when Pari’s class was being taken on a bus trip one day, a little girl who was a Baptist poured a bottle of water over Pari’s head, saying it was to baptise her so she would be saved! Pari arrived home rather wet and wondering if she should be pleased! Another five-year-old in that class (Rosemary Leonard, now McLaughlin) became a good friend to Pari and later became a Bahá’í on her fifteen birthday.
Jackie: There are about 16 inhabited islands in Orkney. In one of them, called Wyre, I remember Iain Palin coming with us to give a talk. Out of the total population of 30, about 20 would come to all our meetings. On this occasion we had taken a dozen or more used postcards depicting the Holy Places, which had been sent to us over the years (all written on), and these were placed as decoration around a table of books on the Faith to make it look attractive. The table was against the wall in the corner, and at the end of the meeting everyone gathered around it. When they came away, the table was absolutely bare and all the books had gone, and the postcards too! We continued to visit Wyre over the years but later the minister told the people that there was only one way to God and that was through Jesus, and the only way to Jesus was through him, and that they should not come to the Bahá’í meetings any more. After that nobody did.
Once when Betty Shepherd and I were visiting Egilsay, an island near Wyre, nobody would put us up because of this minister (he used to cover that island too). We had taken a tent but a gale was blowing so we couldn’t put it up. In the end we found shelter for the night in a deserted house with less than half a roof and no glass in the windows and no water. It was winter and raining and bitterly cold. We slept on the wooden slats of a bed set into the wall under a leaking roof. I woke up in what I thought was the middle of the night to hear Betty saying the long obligatory prayer. I was thinking she was being very spiritual (which she is!) when I realised I had my balaclava pulled down over my face to keep warm and it wasn’t night at all but the morning!
It was decided to have a “Bahá’í Week” one spring. Every day we had an activity – a panel of people (including local folk) to discuss spiritual matters, an exhibition, a talk, and ending with a dinner for the “leaders of thought” in the island. To advertise the week’s activities, we bought hundreds of daffodils and tied a program to each flower and handed them out in the street – not really the Orcadian way of doing things, which is much more low-keyed, and I don’t think such a thing had ever happened before! But we had a good attendance at all the activities. Moira McLeod, a young local Bahá’í, was one of those bravely handing out the daffodils and dying every moment because everybody knew her!
During the early 1970’s the Local Spiritual Assembly decided that over a two-year period we would contact every household in Orkney with information about the Faith and an invitation to a meeting in their own areas. This came to approximately 8,000 houses with a total of 20,000 people, and included 16 parishes on the main island and 16 inhabited smaller islands. Systematically we sent invitations to every single house inviting people to a meeting being held in their own neighbourhood. We approached the leaders of thought in each area, such as the postman, the head schoolteacher, the minister of the church, the shopkeeper and so on, and we gave them literature about the Faith, including presenting the ministers with copies of Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. We used the Post Office’s ‘Penny Post’ scheme which was available then to reach everyone in larger areas and went from door to door in the smaller islands. At these meetings we had a 15-minute talk about the Faith, a 15-minute slide show and then songs, followed by questions and answers. This was done systematically until every island and parish had been covered.
Memories about early Bahá’ís in Orkney
Jackie: Marion Hofman visited several times, during Charlie Dunning’s time and also when we were there. And she wrote us many loving and encouraging letters. Ernest and Joan Gregory (both Board members) also visited regularly. They were living in Nottingham but their area included the Scottish Islands. Owen and Jeanette Battrick visited, and Dr. Ernest Miller would come to do locums. When he was in Papa Westray almost 100 people came to a meeting on the Faith – almost the total population of the island. Sometime later, one of those islanders, Margaret (Maggie) Rendall (1907-1993), became a Bahá’í. (Hers was a very special family. Long before she became a Bahá’í, the island’s church minister was visiting every house, warning people not to go to any Bahá’í meetings. When he came to the Rendall’s house, Maggie’s elderly father told him indignantly that it was a meeting about God, and didn’t the minister believe in Him?)
In the early 1960s Gloria Faizi came up to Orkney and she visited nearly every inhabited island. Then she looked after Daryoush (who was in a wheelchair following an accident in 1963 when he broke his back) and our three children (who were all under the age of four), while I travelled around the same islands following up on people she had met. Later, Bob Beattie, who was from Canada and had pioneered to Aberdeen with his family, visited us on several occasions. Betty Reed as Counsellor also gave us wonderful and wise support. Rouhi Yeganeh (who later married John Huddleston) came up to work as a midwife for a few months and she did a locum on one of the smaller islands.
During 1968 to Ridván 1969, the National Teaching Committee decided to have an all-out teaching effort in Orkney to help form the first Local Spiritual Assembly, which was the goal of the current Nine Year Plan. The committee was aware that there were many elderly Bahá’ís on pensions who were free to travel, and for one year we had a stream of travelling teachers, many of them elderly. Betty and Harold Shepherd (who were living in Inverness but later moved to Orkney) bought a cottage just outside Kirkwall for the travelling teachers to stay in for three-month stints.
This was the time when the Newman sisters from Wales – Beatrice, Mary and Flo – visited. Flo wasn’t a pensioner but her two sisters were. Flo was staying in bed and breakfast accommodation because the cottage was full, and she ran out of money and wanted to stay longer. She had a four shilling piece with her so she thought that if she could sell this it would be just enough for her to cover her expenses to stay one more week. She was directed to Ernest Bertram, who collected coins, and he bought the coin from her. With the money she was able to stay for another week. She also told him about the Faith and he became the first Orcadian Bahá’í.
Ernie’s wife, Violet, became the second Orcadian Bahá’í. Then there were a young Orcadian brother and sister who became interested in the Faith. The sister was Moira McLeod who, when she was 15, used to stop and talk to me when I was pushing my three babies in the pram down the high street. She also used to go into Daryoush’s shop, where he was repairing watches, and talk to him. (This shop was at 61 Victoria Street. After Daryoush’s accident it was used as a Bahá’í Centre before it was eventually sold for the National Fund. There is now another Bahá’í Centre in Kirkwall). When Moira was 21 she became a Bahá’í and a few days later her brother, Ian McLeod, then aged 20, also declared his faith.
There was an American Bahá’í, Mike Monroe, who came to Orkney for one year, and he befriended Ian and taught him the Faith. Mike had been in Vietnam as a soldier and had been given quite a lot of money at the end of his time of service and he wanted to use this money to pioneer somewhere. He had been planning to go to India for a year to teach the Faith but somehow he ended up in Orkney! He had met some of the Jenkerson Bahá’ís in Oxford (Stephen, David and Paul), and as they were coming up to Orkney for a few weeks, he came with them and decided to stay on. That was when he met Moira’s brother, Ian, and told him about the Faith. Ian told Mike that when he was seven, he had been one of the little boys who used to run after Charlie Dunning with a group of other children, although he was not one of those who threw stones. Ian said he remembered how sorry he used to feel afterwards because Charlie never told them off but just looked at them sadly. Ian had a pure heart, as did his sister. Moira became the third Orcadian islander to become a Bahá’í, and Ian was the fourth. So then we were six.
Adele Senior, Rita Bridge (Bartlett), and Parvin Jahanpour also pioneered to Orkney around this time. Then there was Eric King. Eric was South African, from Durban, and his wife (who by this time had sadly passed away) was David Hofman’s sister. Their daughter Colleen said that her uncle David had sent the family Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era in South Africa but they had not read it at first because they couldn’t pronounce the title so did not think they would understand what was in it! Before they knew about the Faith, the family always referred to David Hofman as being “a glorified gardener in Haifa” as, apart from being a member of the Universal House of Justice, his hobby was growing roses around the Shrine of the Báb! Eric and his wife had three children, Shelagh, Colleen and a son. “Pa” (as Eric was affectionately known by the Bahá’ís) eventually became a Bahá’í together with his two daughters. When the family came to live in the UK, Eric, although far from being young, found himself at a youth breakfast with Bill Sears in London when Mr Sears was encouraging the youth to pioneer. As a result, Eric decided he would pioneer to Orkney and this was in the year leading up to the formation of the first Assembly. So Eric arrived, followed shortly by his elder daughter, Shelagh.
At Ridván, 1969, the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Kirkwall, Orkney was formed, its members being Ernest Bertram, Violet Bertram, Moira McLeod, Eric King, Shelagh King, Adele Senior, Parvin Jahanpour, Daryoush and myself. A photograph of the first Local Spiritual Assembly is in The Bahá’í World 1968-1973, page 684. Mike Monroe and Rita Bartlett (née Bridge) were also in our community at that time, but because they were going to be leaving soon they weren’t able to count for the election. Ian McLeod was not eligible to be elected as he was only 20. Philip Hainsworth from the National Spiritual Assembly came up for the formation of our Assembly. Afterwards, Eric’s second daughter, Colleen King (later MacLeod when she married Ian), arrived in Kirkwall.
Over the next few years a number of other people became Bahá’ís. And there is one in particular I would like to mention because there will be no record of him anywhere else as he never signed a card or formally declared his faith. His name was William Houston, a photographer from Stromness in Orkney. He was the kindest and most gentle person with a delightful sense of joy in life. He took a photo of Daryoush and me before we were married and told Daryoush to send it to me in Aberdeen. Eventually Daryoush did (after several reminders from Willy!). Because of this, Willy was convinced that he was the cause of our getting married, which pleased him enormously! When later he became ill and Daryoush was visiting him in hospital, Willy said, “I believe in Bahá’u’lláh.” And a few days later he died.
Hands of the Cause
Daryoush: I knew Hasan Balyuzi and John Ferraby of the British community both before and after they became Hands of the Cause. It is their names that are on both my declaration card and Jackie’s. Mr Grossman came to visit Orkney and Shetland when Charles Dunning was there. The first Hand of the Cause who came to see us in Orkney was Dr Muhlschlegel (he came three or four times). Mr Ferraby visited in 1962, and Dr Muhajir came twice. Mr Khazeh came too (he was very seasick on the boat as the crossing over the Pentland Firth is known to be one of the worst in the world in bad weather). Bill Sears touched down in Orkney in 1968. John Robarts visited and we had meetings with him in the evenings and a friend of ours became a Bahá’í at that time.
Jackie: The Bahá’ís own four acres of land on a hill overlooking Kirkwall and the bay beyond. Daryoush had originally bought this land and given it to the Faith. When Dr. Muhajir came, he thought that this could become a teaching institute for the Faroes, Orkney, Iceland and Shetland, and that the youth should come and convert a large stone shed that is on it into somewhere for young Bahá’ís to stay. That wasn’t possible, but the biggest hope of the local Bahá’ís is that a Temple will be built there one day. Before permission is granted to anyone wanting to build a house on this side of the hill near to what is locally known as “the Bahá’í Temple Land”, the planning department of the town council make it conditional on them promising not to object if a Bahá’í Temple is built there one day! Isn’t that amazing?
The Bahá’í Centre in Orkney
Jackie: The way the present Bahá’í Centre in Orkney came about is a fascinating story, as follows.
Dr Foubister was a homeopathic doctor and an Orcadian. He had a practice in Wimpole Street, London, where he lived, and a house in Orkney, which he rented out. He used to make periodic visits to Orkney, which is how we came to know him through a mutual friend. He told us he was one of the doctors who had attended the Guardian in London in 1957 during his last illness. He said he loved Shoghi Effendi very much, and after Shoghi Effendi had recovered from the flu, he still used to visit him as he enjoyed their talks so much. Mr Faizi sent us three photographs of Shoghi Effendi as a child to send to Dr Foubister, which we did. And in 1963, when Daryoush had an accident in London and broke his back, Dr Foubister came out to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to visit him and gave him medicine free of charge.
The Universal House of Justice set a goal for a Bahá’í Centre to be purchased in each of the three island groups of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, and some years later, after we had pioneered to Dumfries in 1979, we heard that a Bahá’í Centre had been bought in Orkney called “Inchvannie”, in Old Scapa Road, Kirkwall, which we realised was Dr Foubister’s old family home. I think Dr Foubister had died which is why his house was sold. A Bahá’í in Spain had originally bought this house without knowing anything about its history, intending to go and live there at some time in the future with her husband. However, when she heard that it was a goal of the Plan of the Universal House of Justice to have a Centre in Orkney, she offered to sell the house to the Bahá’ís for a nominal fee (it is a substantial, detached, double-fronted stone house) and this is now the Bahá’í Centre. It is the only Centre in the islands which has worked out so far, because although in both Shetland and the Western Isles buildings were bought for the purpose, permission was never given by the local authorities to use them as Bahá’í Centres. It is very special that it has this association with one of Shoghi Effendi’s doctors who loved him so dearly.
First World Congress, London, 28 April –2 May 1963
Jackie: Daryoush and I attended the World Congress on the very last day. Four months before, Daryoush had been taken to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury when he broke his back while visiting his cousin in London in January 1963. He had been clearing snow off a conservatory roof during the very severe winter that year. He had finished and was making his way back to the upstairs window to climb back into the house when his foot slipped and he fell through the glass to the concrete floor below. The broken bones in his back severed his spinal cord and he became paralysed from the waist down. He ended up being in Stoke Mandeville Hospital for nine months, and at the time of the Congress he was still on the dangerously ill list. Bob Beattie, a Canadian Bahá’í from Aberdeen, got permission from the hospital to bring him to the Royal Albert Hall (where the first World Congress was being held), for the last afternoon.
When Daryoush had his accident, I had immediately come south from Orkney with our two oldest children, Kalim and Pari (who were 23 months and 9 months old respectively) to stay with my mother in Eastbourne so I could visit him in hospital. At the time, I was pregnant with our youngest child, Vahid, who was born three months later, on 20 April. On the last day of the Congress, 2 May, I took Vahid on the train to London and to the Royal Albert Hall, where Daryoush saw him for the first time. Vahid was twelve days old and must have been the youngest person there. He slept through all the talks, no doubt having beautiful dreams!
On this last day of the Congress, Rúhíyyih Khánum gave a long and very moving talk on the Guardian, from 3.30 till 6.30. Half way through she was so overcome with emotion she had to stop, but the African Bahá’ís spontaneously began to sing “Alláh’u’Abhá” very quietly, and the seven thousand Bahá’ís present all joined in until Khánum felt able to resume. I will never forget it.
Daryoush: The feeling of being amongst so many Bahá’ís from all over the world is hard to describe. Being part of it seemed to be a fulfilment of everything – a glimpse of the Abhá Kingdom.
Daryoush: (1) While living in Orkney, I wrote a note just before the Teaching Conference of 1958 to the Hands of the Cause requesting permission to make a pilgrimage. I travelled to the Conference by train with Ian Semple and told him that I had requested permission to go on pilgrimage. Ian said there was usually a two or three years’ waiting list, so I never thought any more about it. But when I got back from the Teaching Conference there was a telegram waiting for me from John Ferraby saying that the Hands had said I should go on pilgrimage the following month, the last week of February! I managed to get to Haifa and back to London but I literally didn’t have enough money to travel back to Orkney and for this I had to borrow some. I had a wonderful pilgrimage. The Hands of the Cause Mr Khazeh, Mr Leroy Ioas, Mr Paul Haney and Rúhíyyih Khánum were all there. Khánum spent many hours telling me about her life and of her feelings at the time of the passing of the Guardian. She asked me to repair some clocks for her, which I did (unfortunately I couldn’t mend them all!).
Jackie: (2) When Daryoush had his accident in January 1963 I thought that if I applied for pilgrimage for us both it would be something for him to look forward to, so I did and we were given a date for a year later, in February 1964. While we were away, my mother came up to look after our children who were one, two and three years old respectively.
There were less than 20 pilgrims and our pilgrim guide was Hand of the Cause of God Mr Faizi. It was truly a blessed time.
One particular memory I have is of the last night, when all the World Centre staff and the pilgrims gathered at the Shrines of the Báb and of `Abdu’l-Bahá to pray. Everyone was waiting for Rúhiyyih Khánum to arrive to go into the Shrine first and then everyone else followed. Afterwards, when we all came out, Rúhiyyih Khánum had gathered some petals from the threshold of the Shrine of the Báb, which she gave to Daryoush. A couple of minutes later, John Wade came to help Daryoush back onto his wheelchair and asked: “Where are the flowers?” which he had seen Khánum give to him. Daryoush said, “I ate them!” And John roared with laughter which rang all round the mountain!
Jackie: (3) On a subsequent pilgrimage, in 1973, we were again waiting for Rúhíyyih Khánum to arrive on the final night when something very special happened.
A few days before, Rúhíyyih Khánum had invited all the pilgrims to come to the House of the Master where she would be giving a talk. We were staying in a hotel at the top of the mountain. The three children were with us this time and Vahid was 10 years old. It was arranged that he would go to the meeting with Daryoush by car with one of the friends and I would walk down the mountain with the other two children. So Vahid went with Daryoush round the corner to where the car was parked and the rest of us set off to walk. However, the boot of the car was too small for the wheelchair and it had to be put on the back seats. This meant there was no room for Vahid after all, so Daryoush told him, “Go back to the hotel and go with Mummy.” Vahid ran back to the hotel, but we had already left. And poor Vahid was left in the hotel, watching Israeli television all evening! By the time I arrived at the House of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Pari and Kalim, Daryoush was already there, and there was no sign of Vahid of course. Daryoush was on the far side of the room and I could not reach him to find out what had happened because the meeting had started early.
Afterwards we found out from the hotel manager that Vahid had cried all evening, not because he was not with us, but because he had missed seeing Rúhíyyih Khánum! Nothing we said could console him. We didn’t mention what had happened to anybody. But on the last night of our pilgrimage, as everybody was waiting outside the Shrine of the Báb as usual and Rúhíyyih Khánum was walking past the rows of pilgrims standing on either side of the path, as she passed us, she put out her hand and took Vahid’s in hers and they went into the Shrine together.
Nearly thirty years later, when Daryoush had passed away and I was serving at the Bahá’í World Centre, I told Rúhíyyih Khánum about that incident, and she said she often found herself doing things without knowing why at the time.
Most joyous moments
Jackie: What has given me joy is to be able to serve the friends, especially visiting the isolated believers and discovering the gems in their hearts, which were often unknown to the rest of the world. Any situation where there is love. Every time I pray. The joy of writing for children.
Daryoush: Pioneering to Orkney.
Daryoush and Jacqueline Mehrabi
Note: A short account of Daryoush’s life is included in The Bahá’í World: In Memorium: 1992-1997, pp. 378-380, published by the Bahá’í World Centre.