Before I had ever heard of the Bahá’í Faith, ballroom dancing was my reason for living, but God moves in mysterious ways.
I was all dressed up to go dancing one evening, but my husband was unable to get home, as he worked away, so I was at a loose end. My sister Evelyn, who was already a declared Bahá’i suggested I go with her to a talk being given by a young Persian Bahá’í at the Mayfair Café in Norwich. I found lots of words being used which were strange to me, but I felt I understood them, so after that talk I was captivated.
I was twenty-three years old and married with a three-year-old son when I declared in 1954 in Norwich. I served on the Norwich Local Assembly as soon as I declared. I was voted to be Secretary and served for about four years.
Other members of the Norwich Local Assembly included Walter Wilkins, who had pioneered to Norwich and who was the Assembly’s Treasurer. I remember Walter had all sorts of loose bits of paper in his pockets. Other members at that time were Bob Cheek, Evelyn Chilvers, Evelyn Hardy and Ethel Bird. Bob Cheek was my friend and mentor, and helped me develop spiritually. He had a great understanding of the Bahá’i Faith.
Ethel Bird who ran the ‘Sunday School’ had an uncle who owned a building in Exchange Street, and he allowed us to have a Bahá’i Centre there. Mr Albert Joseph of Manchester sent us a dozen chairs, and we bought a beautiful, leather-topped table from a local auctioneer. Every week we scrubbed the stairs. There was a main meeting room with a sliding door connecting to another room which we called the ‘Joseph Room’ in honour of our chair donor! We held many meetings in this Centre, and I remember weekend schools being held there. On one occasion we mounted an art exhibition of lovely paintings done by Bahá’ís across the country. We advertised for them, and people sent them.
Norwich Bahá’í Centre was visited by National Spiritual Assembly members John Long and Ernest Gregory, and there are photos of a variety of events held there. Eventually the building was sold by Ethel Bird to an estate agent, and after a while the Bahá’ís had to vacate the building with £100 compensation. For a while we were able to have a centre in a condemned terrace house, courtesy of an Alderman Dean, who was a friend of our family, but that was not for long as the council planned to pull the terrace down. Some public meetings were held in The Maid’s Head Hotel, very near to the Cathedral.
My first husband and I were divorced as he left me for another woman, but I then met Frank who had also been married before. Frank, who was then a Mormon, and I started to meet socially, and things grew from there. After some period of lively discussions Frank became a Bahá’í, and we have both served on the Local Assembly of Norwich ever since!
In 1963, the centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s Declaration, I wrote to many local dignitaries and leaders inviting them to accept a book on Bahá’u’lláh and the Faith. The Bishop of Norwich wasn’t really interested, but the Registrar of Birth and Marriages told me he had been to Haifa and had visited the Shrine of the Báb and its gardens. The Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk opted to have the book posted to him, but the Chief Constable of Norwich said his wife would be interested in reading it! The Officer of Health and I got on very well, and we had a good laugh. He said he had not heard of the Bahá’í Faith, but was fairly interested to hear about it.
Over the years I have assisted at the North Sea Borders’ Conference, and been to the Irish Summer School in Waterford.
Through the years I have had the privilege to have many Bahá’ís stay at my home. Ted Cardell, who had been given the title Knight of Bahá’u’lláh by the Guardian, came to give a talk at our centre in Exchange Street, as did Professor Forsyth-Ward, who was the Custodian at the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. A cousin of mine who was very interested in science came along to hear Professor Forsyth-Ward, and really enjoyed it. I have to say there was much about molecules I did not understand even when he tried to help with the idea of a letterbox, but I did not have a clue!
We had the American Bahá’í Dan Jordan visit us. A very clever man. He would stay with us quite a long time, and was very exuberant, greeting people in our neighbourhood with “Hi there!” We were very privileged to have him stay with us and hear his stories, and all about his ‘ballet’ thesis on mental illness.
I kept a tablecloth on which everyone who came to stay wrote their name in their own chosen colour, and then I embroidered over it. The cloth is covered with names, including Adib Taherzadeh, Betty Reed, Dorothy Ferraby, Zebbie Whitehead and many, many others.
Pru George, who was at the time pioneering to the Canary Islands, stayed with me several times, and was like a magnet to my neighbours – everyone loved her. Hand of the Cause Mr Collis Featherstone came to Norwich. He met many Baha’is who came from surrounding areas and gave a talk at our local library. I met Hand of the Cause Bill Sears at the home of Dr Abbas and Shomais Afnan, who were then living in Attleborough, Norfolk. A local paper featured an account of the event plus a photograph. Mr Furutan, another Hand of the Cause was staying at Tony and Ann McCarthy’s, and we had the privilege of spending the evening with him.
My whole Bahá’i life has been centred in Norwich, where several other members of my family have served the Faith.
Norwich, February 2014 – recorded by Iain Macdonald