During the late 1940s I was enrolled at Leeds University but my parents were ill so I left to look after them. When they passed on I returned to the university but had no enthusiasm for it. One day, I met Mickey Mihaeloff, whom I had known before. He was by then a Bahá’í, and I went to many Bahá’í meetings with him. We married in 1949 and, because I could do shorthand and typing, I often found myself doing Teaching Committee minutes for Richard Backwell. Probably because of this, when I became a Bahá’í in 1953 I was put straight onto the Teaching Committee.
A few years later, with Mickey’s consent, I pioneered to Edinburgh. Shoghi Effendi stressed that the LSAs of pivotal cities must be kept at all costs and Edinburgh was one of these cities.
In May 1957 I went on pilgrimage. Mickey arranged it and booked me a passage on the romantic sounding Indian Prince. The ship had engine problems, however, and had to stop in Malta for 26 days for them to be put right. For all but one of those days I saw Olga Mills, the lone Knight of Bahá’u’lláh to Malta; she insisted that I had one day to myself to look around. This meant that I arrived late for my pilgrimage and at a time when no other pilgrims were there. When I first met Shoghi Effendi he simply said, ‘You have been delayed,’ and made no further mention of my lateness. Rúhíyyih Khánum explained why but Shoghi Effendi asked how long I had been in Malta. I said, ‘Twenty-six days,’ and then he talked about Olga Mills, who was quite old. ‘Is she very lonely?’ he asked, showing by this question his concern and compassion
Shoghi Effendi asked about Mickey, commented that he was very active in the Faith, and asked if he spoke Russian. Rúhíyyih Khánum said Mickey was Egyptian and spoke French and Arabic. As before, Shoghi Effendi did not allow other thoughts to deflect him from his course. He said, ‘Mickey should serve beyond the confines of the British Isles and should learn Russian.’ (Mickey did, in fact, go twice to Russia and spoke of his ‘mandate’ from Shoghi Effendi).
Shoghi Effendi then brought me up to date with the state of the goals in Britain, and mentioned that the UK had held all its Assemblies (which included Edinburgh) and I said immediately, ‘Ah, they’ve done it without me.’ Jeanette Battrick had gone to Edinburgh with her young son Richard, saying, ‘If Marian Mihaeloff can leave her husband to pioneer, then so can I’.
I also remember being asked to take down a list of newly-opened territories, but had to borrow a pen from Jessie Revell and so missed the first ones. ‘How many did you get?’ Shoghi Effendi asked at the end. ‘Twelve,’ I replied. ‘There were fourteen,’ he said, but didn’t repeat them. He also asked me how many British counties there were. I guessed and he didn’t correct me. Perhaps I should have said I didn’t know. He asked me about the Scottish believers and localities. I mentioned some and then added Motherwell. Shoghi Effendi said he had been to Scotland and mentioned Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Glasgow and Loch Lomond. I wondered ‘Why Musselburgh?’ but thought it would be impertinent to ask. Shoghi Effendi was keen to know whether the English and Scottish believers got on well together. I said I thought so but added that one Scottish believer said that the grass was greener and the sky bluer in Scotland than anywhere else. Rúhíyyih Khánum chipped in that that was because it was greener and bluer than anywhere else.
I wept in the Shrine of the Báb, and felt happier in that of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. When Shoghi Effendi asked me how I felt in the Shrines he seemed to know. Before I came on pilgrimage, I had had dinner with John and Dorothy Ferraby, who asked me what questions I would ask the Guardian; but I had none, though he would have answered any that I had.
Years later, in July of 1963, I went to Haifa again, this time to work as the first secretarial assistant for the newly-formed Universal House of Justice. I was surprised to be met by ‘Alí Nakhjavání, the Fatheazams and the Gibsons. ‘You didn’t have to come to meet me,’ I said. ‘We didn’t,’ said ‘Alí, ‘we came for the Gibsons and decided to stay on for you.’
Hugh Chance used to refer to the ‘typing pool’ but for many years there were only two of us so we used to call ourselves the ‘typing puddle’. Where the Universal House of Justice originally met, by the door there was a two-way cupboard. Next to it were a red and a green light. A red light meant I could collect material for typing; a green light meant I could put typed work in and then activate the red light to let them know it was there.
After 27 years of devoted service at the Bahá’í World Centre, Marian officially became a UK pioneer when she moved to Cyprus in 1990, where she served the community with love and sincere sacrifice. She was elected many times as a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Nicosia and participated in all community activities as much as she could.
Naw-Rúz 1997 in the Ledra Palace was an occasion never to be forgotten and Marian had the bounty to be present on that day. It was the first time Cypriots from north and south had seen each other for twenty-five years.
Following on from Marian’s passing on 17th March 2016, the following extracts have been written by three friends who knew her well, both in the Holy Land and in Cyprus.
Nell Golden – Bahá’í World Centre
As the second English-language secretary of the Universal House of Justice, I worked side by side with Marian for sixteen years (1965-1981) and we were both boundlessly grateful and happy for this privilege of service to our Supreme Body at the World Centre. We enjoyed a wonderfully compatible, loving and happy time as workmates in our office at No. 10 Haparsim, along with Roger White, who was at that time the lone member of the Publishing Department, the premises of which were a pantry next to our office. I greatly appreciated Marian’s fine and sensitive nature, her conscientious and meticulous work habits, her sense of humour, and the love of music which we shared, and also shared with Roger (we were all three Gemini’s).
Marian and I were very fortunate to have spent some special times with beloved Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum in those early days, including a ‘sari party’ at the Master’s House at which the few female staff members were draped – by Shafigeh Fatheazam and Violette Nakhjavani – in beautiful saris from Amatu’l-Bahá’s collection (mostly from her 1964 nine-month visit to India). It was a unique, joyous and quite colourful occasion – with Amatu’l-Bahá’s gorgeous saris on display!
Marian loved animals, and occasionally Amatu’l-Bahá would call on her to tend one or more of her pets, which was quite a compliment. During my overlapping years of service with Marian at the World Centre, the warm appreciation Amatu’l-Bahá had for Marian and her fine and admirable attributes was evident to me, and I shall never forget them.
To have served with and been a close friend of Marian Mihaeloff is one of my treasured and ever-remembered gifts of service at the World Centre. It is heart-warming to think that she has now winged her flight to the Heavenly Realms where she is reaping the rewards of her devoted and dedicated service to the Blessed Beauty and His precious Cause.
Anita Graves – Cyprus
Marian once told me that she dreamed of Bahá’u’lláh. On another occasion, she talked a little about her husband, Mickey. Marian loved animals and after she arrived in Cyprus, she had acquired a pet tortoise. When she discovered that Erol Olkar also had a tortoise in his garden in Famagusta, she wanted to give hers to him. We travelled with the tortoise on her lap, in my car, to Erol’s home and put the two of them together on the carpet in his living room. I have photographs of that day. They seemed to be interested in one another, but no baby tortoises ever appeared.
Marian also told me that when she was serving in the office of the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom at Rutland Gate, she knew Ian Semple very well. After the newly-elected Universal House of Justice came to the World Congress in London in 1963, she continued with her work, but very much felt the vacuum in her life once Ian Semple had been elected to the Universal House of Justice and was no longer in the London office. Marian was not surprised that Ian came to chat with her during the World Congress, and never suspected any hidden motive for his visit, but after the members of the House had returned to Haifa to take up their new duties, she received a cable inviting her to serve the Universal House of Justice. Thus she had the distinction of being the first person invited by the House of Justice to serve as a secretary, which she did for twenty-seven years. She said she and one of the House members went down to the Hadar to rent a typewriter. Marian really ‘grew up’ with the House of Justice in those earliest years.
At that time, the seat of the House of Justice was situated in the Western Pilgrim House on Haparsim Street, diagonally opposite the House of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Their meeting chamber was directly above the dining room where the Western pilgrims had dinner with the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi.
We were privileged to know Marian while she was working at the National Office in the British Isles before she left England in July 1963 and then again as a pioneer to Cyprus from 1990 until the end of her life. She first lived in Nicosia but then moved to Larnaca where she stayed for a number of years. The last thirteen years of her life were spent again in Nicosia.
No doubt her crowning service was as the first secretary of the Universal House of Justice, working in that department for nearly ten years and at the World Centre for a further seventeen years–service that we all realise was of a special nature and a truly supreme service to the world.
She used to speak with such love of those years and the members of the Supreme Body – especially those from the earliest years, and with a delightful humour. In her recent years she lived a rather reclusive life but one without suffering until the very last weeks. Right to the end her smile conquered all those who sat with her or were her fellow patients. Her laughter was a precious blessing to us.’
Above her bed in the nursing home where she was until an hour before her death, were the following words from the Universal House of Justice,
“Kindly convey to her the love of the House of Justice and assure her of its supplications at the Sacred Threshold that she may be surrounded by the tender mercies of the Blessed Beauty and sheltered under His loving care and protection.”
The following article was written by Marian for the Cyprus Bahá’í News in January 1995. It gives a charming and wonderful insight into her spiritual soul.
Ties that Bind
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave as His profession that of a mat-weaver. Our National Spiritual Assembly has requested us to become weavers of a different sort, weavers of those bonds of love and fellowship enjoined upon us by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, bonds which when once forged endure forever.
So, the 26th of November, the Day of the Covenant, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s day, seemed a propitious day for … and myself, the solitary believer in Larnaca, to undertake a little weaving trip to Famagusta. Famagusta was our choice because the two ancient settlements had been recently ‘twinned’ by the National Assembly, on account of their geographical proximity, I suppose. Be that as it may, I was delighted to be offered the possibility of becoming acquainted with the friends there and with their historic city and its historic association with the Faith since the time of Bahá’u’lláh. In 1868 His four exiled companions arrived in Famagusta. One of them, Mishkín-Qalam, renowned calligraphist, remained in the Famagusta/Nicosia/Larnaca area for several years. A descendant of his, our own dear Burhan [Zahrai], was here with us only last month in order to marry his sweet and serene Manal from Egypt. And it would seem that the calligraphic mantle of his illustrious forebear has fallen upon his shoulders. Calligraphic genius must be carried in the genes! But I am digressing.
To return to Famagusta and the 26th of November. Lunchtime found us in a bright and sunny room in the hospitable home of Erol and Şafak Olkar. We took lunch, together with his children and baby granddaughter, to the accompaniment of several lively, chattering pet budgerigars. There were other family members I believe whom we did not meet – a convalescent crow, and a hibernating tortoise (more of the tortoise later).
Erol, as we know, is a veritable mine of information on many things (I think of him as erudite Erol and hope he doesn’t mind) and, like Lewis Carroll’s walrus, we talked “of many things”, if not on the intriguing possibility of winged pigs* we certainly talked about tortoises and how difficult they are to come by these days (this was in connection with the solitary unnamed creature sleeping away the Winter months outside – but come the Spring?)**
It was on talking about the Qur’an, however, that Erol’s deep love and understanding of this Book kept us absorbed and enthralled until it seemed that in no time at all it was time to leave – I had an appointment with a service taxi to take me back from Nicosia to Larnaca, and since Cypriot taxi drivers, like time and tide, wait for no man, we just had to leave with promised hopes to return again, and again – next time perhaps with a tortoise? Inshallah!
* “The time has come,” the Walrus said “To talk of many things:/ Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax / Of cabbages and kings / And why the sea is boiling hot / And whether pigs have wings.” Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
** Should anyone happen to have a tortoise to spare, female, fit and willing to travel, here is an opportunity for her to offer a little companionship to another of her own kind. She would be assured of a warm and loving home.
[Published in Cyprus Bahá’í News, No 311, Sultan, January 1995, BE 151]