The following is taken from Claudia’s funeral programme.
Claudia was 99 years and 8 months old when she passed on.
She was born on 25th April 1915 on a Sunday afternoon during World War I to Amy Priscilla Grant (née Skillikee) and William Marshall Grant, and was the first of four children. Her place of birth was by the Upper Demerara River, on the west bank, before Linden in British Guiana. The settlement was so small that you could not even call it a village. Her maternal grandfather was three-quarters American Indian. He was a preacher, working for the Canadian church, converting the locals to Christianity.
Claudia had a brother and two sisters. She went to school on School Street, Albouystown, Georgetown. It was the Presbyterian Scots Church School. Her mother died when she was seven and she had to leave school to babysit her younger brother who was nine months old. Where she was born in Susanha Rues up the Demerara River, the education system was not strict so she was able to miss school without questions being asked. At the time, the area was not populated and a neighbour would not be found for miles.
Her maternal grandmother saw her plight and insisted she go to school. A decision was made that she was to live with the paternal side of the family, where she was the Cinderella. Due to the overcrowding of the home, her grandfather Simon Grant bought a property in Albouystown and she attended two-phase government school until the age of sixteen, after which she went to live with her paternal grandparents’ mother in Craig Village. There with her grandparents she became well rounded, adept in all things from housewifery to animal husbandry. She had a great aptitude for planting and creating plants; for instance, one of her lime trees would produce limes on some branches and oranges on another.
In 1934, at age nineteen, she met Basil Simpson and they became engaged, with the wedding pending within a year. But Claudia said “we need a house” so off he went to the consolidated gold fields to quickly make money to buy land and build the house, for which Claudia saved the money. The timber was bought from Lombard Street, the house was built and the wedding took place on 24th August 1938.
Their first child, Lynette, was born in 1940 and their second child, Alan, in March 1943. Lynette was disappointed to have a brother instead of a sister. Claudia fell pregnant again and had a baby boy called Asdale. With a new baby in the family they were extremely happy. Life was full and plentiful. Basil Simpson was a fun-loving man, but like most men, had a hobby which was to hunt labba, a species of large rodent. Claudia hated the hobby, so she never ate the meat. It caused great quarrels, but he continued until he was killed in an accident in July 1947, while hunting labba.
Claudia was thus widowed at the age of 32 with three young children, the baby being just nine months, and there was no social security in British Guiana. As a thrifty and skilled young woman she turned to her skills in animal husbandry and farming. The children always had plenty to eat and drink. They always had a gallon saucepan full of milk, and lots of fruit and vegetables. Her motto was: “Plant and you will never be hungry. The extras you can sell”, which is exactly what she did. The farm she ran had such produce as cassava, plantain, pumpkin, cucumber, squash, coreila, and sugar cane. She would get up at 4 am to get to the farm. Sometimes she would walk and sometimes she went by boat.
When the war finished in 1945, British Guiana being a British Colony endured shortages, but once there was cash you could have goods, and as a farmer, independence as well. Claudia never settled and always wanted to try a new venture. Her new motto was “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, so in 1951 she decided to keep bees. Not only did she give the children a plot of land each to plant, she also ensured that each of her children had four bee hives for food (honey) or a new queen. She would wear protective clothing and the children would provide smoke, which was fun for them. When there was a shortage of nectar, they fed the bees with sugared water.
Claudia recounts how in 1952 she would work on the farm by herself, doing everything on her own. A young tailor, Fredrik (Buddy) Jones, lived opposite her. He saw Claudia coming and going every day and realised she was a very capable farmer. He asked her to help him one day and work for him. She agreed, and started running his trees. Midday, she asked for a break to go home and cook some cassava in a pot. “You don’t work with spoon and plate”, she said. She left Fredrik working by himself and when she had finished cooking she called him to come and eat. She had laid a big young leaf on the ground and spread the food she had prepared for him. Fredrik explained that there was a group of friends in Georgetown and he wanted her to meet them, which Claudia was eager to do. Buddy Jones had recently declared as a Bahá’í. Claudia and her daughter Lynette were invited to a fireside meeting in Mr Jones’ home in Grove, with six other people present. The meeting highlighted the name of the religion, why it was called Bahá’í, and where it originated.
Fredrik and Claudia went to Charlotte Street where a group had just started meetings in the Salvation Army House. There she met several Bahá’ís including Sony Griffith and Eileen Hill. They also used to go to Saint Andrew’s Kirk for meetings, as well as the City Hall. She also met Mrs Savory with her family and Ivan Fraser, who all came to listen. Other early-days teachers were Edward and Ellen Widmer, Frank and Agnes Sheffey, Basil Jones, Kenneth Brisport with his daughter Delyse, and Richard and Vida Backwell who had pioneered to British Guiana from Britain in 1955 with their two young children Zoe and Keith.
Claudia attended every fireside and took her daughter Lynette along with her. The firesides continued until she decided to host one. Her first fireside was attended by twelve people; the Backwells, Saiomy Hill, Moe and a few neighbours. The people in Craig village were curious concerning the religion Claudia was getting involved with. Who were these people? Some thought she was eccentric. One old lady was brave enough to tell Claudia’s father who asked when the next meeting was, to her great surprise. It was a feast with lots to eat and drink and more people. There was homemade ice cream, cakes, five finger drink (Carambola), swank but never rum as Bahá’ís don’t drink alcohol. The feast was in April 1953, on Claudia’s birthday, and that year she became a Bahá’í.
To her children Claudia was different in many ways after becoming a Bahá’í. Even though she had gone through a metamorphosis, she never imposed her belief on the children. She gave them a choice in everything, including religion. They continued to attend Sunday school at St Agnes Anglican Church and were confirmed there. She really wished in her heart of hearts her daughter Lynette would become a Bahá’í but none of the children did.
When asked when exactly she became a Bahá’í, Claudia said, “Well, looking back, I was born a Bahá’í.” The teachings attracted her, there being one God, one Mankind, one Religion. The basic teaching that there is only one religion is what attracted her to the faith.
Claudia did a lot of travel-teaching, particularly along the Essequibo River. She donated land to the Bahá’í community. She was part of the group of early believers in Guyana who laid the foundations of a thriving community.
In later life she moved to England (July 1995) and lived with her daughter Lynette in Croydon. Over time, her health declined, resulting in a significant loss of both sight and hearing, but her former habits of learning prayers by heart helped her continue her spiritual journey throughout this difficult phase.
She passed away on 16th December 2014 in Croydon, Surrey, a few months short of her 100th birthday.
Provided by Judith Golova (Croydon)