I was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, the youngest of four children, during a blizzard in 1946.
My mother, Enid, who passed away in Surrey at the age of 95 in 2015, was a kindergarten teacher for most of her life but also worked for a time with MI5. She always had a very artistic ‘eye’ and enjoyed meeting new people. My father, John, who died in 1973, was a Wing Commander in the RAF and trained pilots during WW II. He also flew reconnaissance missions and was active in the Berlin Airlift in 1948/49.
After the war he became a teacher and then a private tutor of mathematics, physics and chemistry. He was interested in mysticism and instilled in all of us that we should respect all the peoples of the world and their religions.
Both of my grandfathers were Anglican clergymen. My paternal grandfather was a missionary in Madagascar at the turn of the century and was given the title of ‘Canon.’ He and his wife had six sons, of whom my father was the eldest. On his return to the UK he served in Cornwall and Devon where he originally hailed from. My maternal grandfather served the Anglican Church in Essex, Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
From 1953 until 1955, my family lived in Kyrenia, Cyprus, where I initially spent time recovering from tuberculosis contracted from drinking unpasteurised milk on my uncle’s farm. After having attended many different schools in Cyprus and in the north, south and west of England, I landed up at Legat, a Russian ballet school in Kent, where I trained to be a ballet dancer. Work as a dancer took me to Manchester, Eastbourne and Croydon for pantomimes and summer shows, and then all over the UK for the next three years with a small London-based touring company called Harlequin Ballet.
I met my future husband in London in 1967 and we were married in Staplehurst, Kent in 1968. We emigrated to Canada, together with our first son, James and our dog Fella, a Scottish border collie cross. We arrived in Vancouver in September 1969 and then moved out to White Rock, a small town on the Pacific coast in British Columbia.
There we met some Bahá’ís who had pioneered to the town from Vancouver to form a Local Spiritual Assembly. They lived in a house on the side of a hill that overlooked our kitchen and I would often see them, books in hand, gazing out over the Pacific Ocean as I washed the dishes. I was intrigued. One day I saw a lot of activity with these young men coming and going all day holding books, fruit and potted plants. I became even more intrigued! This went on most of the day until one of them took a short cut through our garden where I was playing with Fella. I asked him what he had been doing all day and he explained that they were Bahá’ís and that they were organizing a ‘World Religion Day’ in the hall down the road and would Neil and I like to attend. When Neil returned at the end of the day I explained that I had met our neighbours and we had been invited to a meeting that night but I could not remember the name of the religion, only that it began with a B. Neil asked me if it could have been Bahá’í and then I recognised the name immediately! We attended the meeting that night and I truly think it was the best World Religion Day that I have ever attended. There was a wonderful panel of speakers including Dorothy Francis who was a well-known indigenous Bahá’í in Canada.
Following this meeting we started to associate with the Bahá’ís and I was invited to share prayers. ‘Blessed is the Spot’ was the first prayer they shared with me and I loved it! From then on we always tried to attend their weekly informal discussions which they called firesides. These were truly amazing with always lots of people present; they had speakers from Vancouver and surrounding communities on a regular basis and at one time Counsellor Florence Mayberry from the USA. Many people became Bahá’ís at this time.
One night I had no sugar for my tea, and as the Bahá’ís and ourselves were not very well off and often shared food, Neil went over to their house to borrow sugar – but he didn’t come back! After waiting for some time I went over to see what was going on and found him sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by the Bahá’ís. When he had entered their home there was a fireside going on that was just ending. He had waited by the door as the Tablet of Ahmad was being recited, which had touched his soul and he later said that he felt he had heard the Word of God in that prayer.
When I reached the Bahá’ís’ house, he was going through a list of questions with the Bahá’ís and at the end, his arms went up in the air and he said “Yes!” He became a Bahá’í that evening and I remember feeling very happy for him because he had been searching for many years.
When Neil attended his first Feast I, not being a Bahá’í, did not attend, so I took a book I was reading by Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, and sat on the back steps outside. It was a brilliant full moon so I was able to read by the light of it. After a while I read a Tablet by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá where he was grieving that there was so much to be done in the work of the Faith and how he wished we could accomplish it for him as He was now quite elderly. This made a great impression on me because I realised that I had been enjoying the company of these Bahá’ís and believed everything that was being said but now was the time to make a commitment. At this point Neil returned home for sugar for the Feast because they did not have any left. I explained that I wished to become a Bahá’í and accompanied him back to the Feast. Since all the Local Spiritual Assembly members were there, they convened a meeting to receive me and accept my declaration as a Bahá’í. Within three weeks both Neil and I were elected to the Assembly and then I was elected secretary! Then the journey truly began. In White Rock I found a ballet studio and started dancing again, and then took teacher training courses and ended up teaching the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus in two locations in White Rock and Tsawwassen. Over the next five years two more sons came along, Hamish (1973) and Andrew (1975).
In 1976 we did a home-front pioneer move up the Fraser Valley to a town called Chilliwack in a rural farming area to help form the Local Spiritual Assembly there. In time our fourth son, Quddús (1978) came along to complete our family.
It was during this time that we did a lot of teaching work with Canada’s native population, which I greatly enjoyed. One reserve – Skway – was very close to our house, and I would sometimes walk down with the children to have tea with the then-chief, Geraldine Mussell. At the time, we were also involved with teaching the Sikh population, who were mainly farmers, in Delta and Surrey, Vancouver.
The children attended children’s classes in Chilliwack and in Abbotsford, another town in the Fraser Valley. I remember that Chilliwack had over 60 churches of different denominations. We did a lot of proclamation work there.
In 1980 we decided to pioneer to Africa, specifically to Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR), a French-speaking country. As our youngest son was only two years old, I did not get a job right away but when I did, it was with the American Peace Corps Medical Office as a secretary/receptionist serving both Peace Corps volunteers and American Embassy personnel. I worked there for fourteen years. I also eventually found work as a classical ballet teacher and taught ballet to many nationalities over the next thirteen years at the Bangui Rock Club and at my studio at home. I also worked on the National Bahá’í Children’s Teaching Committee, and taught weekly children’s and junior youth classes for the entire time we lived in the CAR. Over the following few years James, Hamish and Andrew returned to Ottawa to continue their education.
In 1995 I went to Haifa to visit our son Hamish who served there as a security guard for 19 months and spent many happy hours photographing youth in their various roles doing their service there. I then compiled an album so that the Central African youth could see what a Year of Service at the Bahá’í World Centre looked like.
In 1996 civil war erupted in the Central African Republic and within a week Neil, Quddús and myself were evacuated by the French army to Gabon, then to Paris, and from there back to Canada. It was a real joy to be reunited with our other boys whom we missed greatly.
Within three months I had landed a job in a ballet school in Quebec where I worked for the following eight years. I also ran a few ballet classes in Ottawa, mainly for Bahá’í children, and held weekly study and dance workshops for a junior youth group at the Bahá’í school.
In 1999 we did another home-front pioneer move to Cornwall, Ontario to help form the Assembly there. It was here that I started yet another ballet school, the Cornwall School of Dance, which I run to this day.
In 2005 we did a three month pioneering stint to the sub-Arctic – to Cape Dorset in Nunavut. This was a memorable experience!! I fell in love with the Inuit, and the landscape and started to paint, paint, paint – and have not looked back! We returned over the next three years for short periods, visiting several other hamlets in different parts of Nunavut: Iqaluit, Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake.
In 2006 I joined Neil in Dominica (where he was fulfilling a three month pioneering goal) for three weeks to help the Bahá’í community there. One of the highlights was meeting and interacting with the Carib Indians who live on the last remaining Carib reserve there.
In 2009 and 2010 we pioneered for two separate periods to the beautiful island of Bermuda, working closely with the lovely Bahá’í community there, and I continued to paint, paint, paint! We found that our experience with teaching campaigns in Toronto and Ottawa had really prepared us for our service there as we now had a good conceptual and practical framework within which to work.
In 2011 Neil and I went on Bahá’í pilgrimage for the first time – unspeakably beautiful!!
Afterwards we went back to the Central African Republic with our daughter-in-law, Mitra, to see all our old friends, which was very moving and wonderful after having been away for so long. We visited a training site where both Bahá’ís and friends from the wider community were training to become teachers to work in grassroots community schools.
In 2012 I provided some of my paintings of Nunavut as illustrations for a Ruhi Book 1 in Inuktitut, an Inuit language, which has just been published and is dear to my heart.
I have also had the honour of serving on the LSA here in Cornwall, Ontario, as its secretary since we arrived in 1999 and also as an assistant to Auxiliary Board members for Nunavut and our cluster. Other duties encompass facilitating Ruhi circles both within the cluster and by tele-Ruhi for far-flung Northern Canada communities, being a statistics officer and, in the past, helping to familiarise the friends with the Law of Huqúqu’lláh. We also host a monthly devotional dinner in our home.
Over the past three years, Neil and I have visited the Island of Lewis and the Orkney Islands to provide support for the friends there and we were delighted to attend our first Summer School in the UK in Scotland in 2015 – at, believe it or not, Neil’s old school of Strathallan where a photo of him in a rugby team is still up on the wall!
Ontario, Canada, June 2016