Charles and Yvonne Macdonald in the 1970s

Both Charles and Yvonne were born in memorable circumstances. Charles was born in 1916 in a ‘caul’ (an intact thin membrane enclosing the head, and which glitters like some evanescent veil). It was seen as a sign of good luck for those so blessed.

Yvonne was also born in 1916, in County Wexford, Ireland; a hotbed of Republican rebellion. Her father on rushing from their home to get a doctor for the birth, was winged across the cheek by a bullet – it was of course the year of the ‘Easter Rising’.

Charles’s ‘luck’ was certainly evident throughout his life, and his friends subscribed to the legend that if Charlie Macdonald was flung into a pile of manure, he would not only come up smelling of roses, but clutching a bunch of them as well!

Yvonne, interestingly, and with an ironic link to her birth, was described ‘as a bit of a rebel’.

Charles was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, to Irish parents who had migrated there for a better life, but his father tragically died just before Charles was born. His name too was Charles, and at twenty five years old fell victim to tuberculosis. Charles’s mother, Maud, decided to return with her infant son to Ireland, only to hear of the passing of her dearly loved father as she sailed back from South Africa.

Maud, a gentle, intelligent woman with a remarkable talent for piano playing, was re-married later to a Samuel Beckett, not a playwright, but an electric power house worker. She had five more children – four boys and a girl. Charles maintained the name of his father – Charles Robertson Macdonald, but enjoyed a good relationship with his lively and intelligent half-siblings.

Indeed four of the boys, including Charles, served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War, and all survived, although one was taken prisoner by the Italians and spent two years on the run within Italy. The strain on the parents was intense.

Yvonne was the eldest of three girls, her sisters being Sheila and Maeve. Her father, William Kirkwood, was a schoolteacher as was her mother Dora.

From Wexford the Kirkwoods moved to the North of Ireland, and to Hillsborough, a lovely village about twelve miles from Belfast, and the site of Hillsborough Castle, a late Georgian mansion which was Government House from 1924 until 1973, and the official residence of the British monarch whilst on any visits to Ulster. It remains so to this day.

William was appointed headmaster of the village school, enjoying some status living in the school house, but had not so much enjoyment by way of pay!

Charles was to make some passing impact on Hillsborough Castle when, during the War and serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, he was flying a Liberator aircraft back from the United States. Having taken off in Louisiana, then on to Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to an airbase in Scotland, he chose to pinpoint Hillsborough on his flight path over Ireland, and flying very low, unmistakably to attract Yvonne’s attention, dramatically shook the windows of Government House. Apparently George VI and Queen Elizabeth were staying there briefly at the time, and were singularly unimpressed by the shaking!

Charles grew up in a Belfast terraced street close to the Ormeau Park. His family, as Yvonne’s, were Church of Ireland, and staunch supporters of the Union. Charles was, until mid-teens, a fairly small boy who was coxswain for the school rowing team, but then sprang to six foot two!

He was highly intelligent, very much his own person, with an inherent talent for leadership. He had a great sense of fun, and had some measure of knockabout, and good humoured, mutual teasing, with his brothers. There was always a sense of them looking up to him, as he was fiercely loyal to and protective of both family and friends.

After a primary school education, Charles was awarded one of the very few City of Belfast scholarships to the prestigious Royal Belfast Academical Institution (later to educate a clutch of Bahá’i youth including one – Joe Watson – who became its head boy, and in later life was the Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Republic of Ireland). His particular strength was for Maths, but poetry made a deep impression on him, and he could throughout his life quote great chunks of Shakespeare and the Golden Treasury with relish. Tennyson’s extraordinary power of spiritual vision was to later ring with a particular vibrancy, as portrayed in these lines from ‘Locksley Hall’ –

‘Till the war drums throbb’d no longer, and the battle flags were furl’d

In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World’…

Yvonne was educated initially under the ticking grandmother clock of her own father’s classroom, and was, she certainly felt, more chastised than the other children, in the interests of scotching any sense of favouritism. However, she was in her own words ‘naughty’, occasionally climbing out of her bedroom window to meet up with friends, or passing notes to boys through wood cracks in the family pew during the Sunday service!

William and Dora, although to all intents and purposes staunch members of the Church of Ireland were constantly in a state of search for more compelling answers to the meaning of life, a search which led them into Christian Science, as well as the fringes of spiritualism. Yvonne would creep down the school house stairs and hover as her parents, and others, attempted séances with its inevitable table bangings, and questions to an after- life. However, it was just this insistent, restless enquiry that led not only them, but a whole family to the Bahá’í Faith

On leaving school Charles joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and Yvonne, having attended Belfast’s Victoria College for Girls, also joined the Civil Service.

They met in the romantic setting of Portadown’s Labour Exchange. Yvonne was secretary to the manager there, and one day another young civil servant, tall and gawky walked in, and parked himself on the manager’s desk – who was out! Yvonne turned to get a better look at this assured, dark-haired young man, and liked what she saw. Charles too was impressed, and so their courtship began. Lunchtime, arm- in- arm walks along the River Bann nurtured their growing love for each other.

Charles was posted to work in Stormont – the seat of Northern Ireland government, and at a leaving party in Portadown, Charles, regularly happy to break into song, sang ‘The Rose of Tralee’ with eyes firmly fixed on Yvonne.

Charles sensed the very real threat of war, and decided to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (much to Yvonne’s consternation) but he was then directly called up to the Royal Air Force in September 1939. He did his initial training in the town of Hastings, and a photograph shows him and some fellow fledgling pilots, grouped together and laughing. Charles was the only one of that group of young men to survive the War.

Qualifying for his wings in July 1940, he promptly married Yvonne as well, having proposed a choice between being a possible war widow or a bereaved girlfriend! Yvonne did not hesitate to choose to be his wife, and spent the next few years living on or near English airfields, lying awake at night waiting to hear the hiss of the tyres of Charles’s bike as he sped home to her after a night’s bombing raid. A mere breath; a leaf of tissue paper separated Yvonne from her dear husband’s possible death. This was the reality of their first five years of marriage.

Charles achieved the rank of Squadron Leader (latterly acting Wing Commander) and was cited in a contemporary magazine as belonging to a generation of men ‘whose deeds merit the highest praise their comrades can bestow upon them’. Bomber Command suffered over the course of the War the appalling statistic of a 44.4 per cent death rate. His son once asked Charles how did he feel on any mission, knowing the odds against survival. He simply said ‘You did not think it was going to be you’. His photograph appeared beside that of the legendary Leonard Cheshire VC. One of his crew once confided to Yvonne that “They would follow Mac to hell and back”. At the end of the War Charles was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) by King George VI – who may have forgotten about the window rattling! This gift of inspiring others, making them feel secure and good about themselves was something Charles was to sustain not just through war, but through a dedicated passion for peace.

Yvonne too had a great capacity to inspire affection and personal confidences; complete strangers regularly felt moved to confide in her, warmed by her empathy and kindness. Her essential shyness and modesty veiled great courage and powers of endurance.

After the War Charles was seconded to the emergent British Overseas Airways Corporation (later British Airways) as an airline captain, to help open up new world airline routes.

But, he abandoned this career to settle with his wife (the War had robbed them of any settled existence) and he re-joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In 1947 Charles and Yvonne were joined by a baby son, Iain, and this family trio led a very secure, happy and loving life.

Charles swiftly advanced through the ranks of the Civil Service, and leisure activities included organic, ‘no dig’ gardening (a bit wacky in the early fifties); drinking with friends; the occasional dinner dance, seaside holidays and trips to rugby matches and local ‘picture-houses’. Attendance at church was sporadic – the occasional wedding or funeral – indeed there was one visit to Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral one Easter, just to see if there might be a blinding light of recognition – there wasn’t. Charles was always ready to argue or challenge his parents-in-law, William and Dora, who continued to trawl their way through an assortment of religious allegiances and experiences.

“What on earth have you found now?” he cried, as William and Dora recounted stumbling upon a Bahá’í meeting in Belfast, one rain- drenched night, and sang the praises of the speaker, a Lady Kathleen Hornell (an English Bahá’í pioneer to Belfast).

A spark flashed in their souls. Charles, was by now a very sceptical agnostic, but probably not an atheist, however the War left little conviction of a caring creator.

Yvonne was less sceptical, and had a nature ready to embrace a compassionate and unifying faith.

An initial visit was made to Charles and Yvonne by Kathleen Hornell in early 1956 (their son Iain, nine at the time, writes a child’s view of all this in his separately published story) and there then followed visits from other Bahá’ís who were committed to strengthening the stability of the Belfast Local Spiritual Assembly, and developing the small Bahá’í community in Northern Ireland. They included David and Marion Hofman, Ernest Gregory and a quite remarkable and vital young man called Daniel Jordan, who was then an American Rhodes Scholar at Oxford (Dan was not long after to marry a truly lovely and vibrant young Irish woman called Nancy Blair. Their Bahá’í wedding was celebrated in the Macdonalds’ house!).

Lively debate ensued, and then one day, Charles, who had been ill in bed, but had been reading ‘The Gleanings’, was heard to cry out “This is it!”

What followed was Yvonne’s declaration, who had already recognised Bahá’u’lláh, but was waiting for Charles to decide. Their declarations were made on the 22nd June 1956. What then followed were the declarations of Yvonne’s parents, William and Dora, and after that Yvonne’s sister, Sheila, and her only son, Tony. Some years later Lois Chinn, later Haghpeykar, the daughter of Yvonne’s younger sister Maeve, became a youthful Bahá’í, as did Iain at the age of fifteen.

In those earlier days anyone declaring their faith in Bahá’u’lláh was expected to be talked through the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Bahá. Lady Hornell in her inimitably rigorous fashion, took Charles and Yvonne one evening through the Will and Testament. It lasted through the night!

Belfast’s Local Spiritual Assembly needed strengthening; indeed the existing Local Assembly was held together with the presence of temporary English pioneers, who might stay three months or so respectively. During 1956 such pioneers included: Muriel Matthews from Paignton, Devon; Alice Kerwin and Prudence George – sisters from Blackburn; Evelyn Hardy from Norwich and Beatrice Keary, who had been on the first Local Spiritual Assembly in Belfast in 1950, but made a return visit and served on the Assembly for a few months in 1956.

Marion Hofman happened to be staying with Charles and Yvonne, and one day, coming down the stairs from her bedroom, was told that they had decided to move. Her face lit up and she said “Do you know I have been upstairs praying for exactly that!”

The move into Belfast was speedy in that having sold a detached house with a large garden , the family found themselves in a rented two floor maisonette, straddling the corner of a city avenue and street. There was no garden; indeed the front door opened directly onto the street, but the Local Spiritual Assembly was secure!

Within the year Yvonne’s father, William, at only sixty two, died of a heart attack, leaving her mother Dora a widow. At the same time Sheila, Yvonne’s sister, found herself and her son, Tony, deserted by her husband, so Charles and Yvonne, moved by their respective plights offered them a home with themselves and Iain. So the Bahá’í family had grown from three to six! This selfless generosity and kindness of spirit was intrinsic to them both, and indeed later they offered a temporary home to others in need of emotional respite or loving support.

Within the year –1957- Shoghi Effendi passed away in London. The shock within the Bahá’í community was palpable and deep, as many of the Belfast Friends gathered at the home of Charles and Yvonne that dark November afternoon. Charles had already in his possession a treasured, short, hand-written note from the Guardian, sent to the Northern Ireland Teaching Committee. On that ominous November afternoon Charles wept for a man he had never actually met. He served as a steward at Shoghi Effendi’s funeral.

Both Yvonne and Charles profoundly absorbed the Faith into their lives. Their temporary home in Belfast became the scene of lively and well-attended ‘firesides’. Pinned to a wall was a big, world map with starbursts of lines radiating across it. The Guardian’s Ten Year Crusade.

Charles and Yvonne were now teaching their new-found Faith with fervour. Indeed there was an anecdote about Charles which suggested that maybe he should be less immediate in asking people, whom he had only just met, had they ever heard of the Bahá’í Faith? He accepted this and from then on, with greater subtlety, said “Good morning/afternoon/evening. Have you ever heard of the Bahá’í Faith?”

A couple of years later, and attending the International Bahá’í Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, Charles was now totally infused with the oneness of humanity, and with a burning commitment to world peace. When asked by a German Bahá’í if he had ever been to Germany before, he paused for a moment, and then said “Yes. But only at night!”

The Faith, in the fifties, brought to the rather insular and bigoted culture of Belfast, an almost exotic sense of a world and peoples beyond, and the steady arrival of young Persian/Iranian Bahá’ís (notably the Jamshidi brothers: Rustam, Qudrat and Hushang, then Beman Khosrovi and later, Jamshid Arjamandi who much later in life became the custodian at Bahjí) was not only intriguing, but a direct link with the great Central Figures of the Faith, their lives, language and suffering.

Many of their family, friends and colleagues thought the Macdonalds had completely lost their senses; had been ensnared by some wacky cult which, given a few months, would run its course. The love and respect in which they were held previously was somewhat coloured by a sense of bemusement and perplexity. But it did not run its course, and the Faith became their daily breath; the lodestar of their lives.

The commitment to Belfast sustained their lives for the next ten or eleven years, its Local Assembly regularly served by Charles as its chairman, and Yvonne as its secretary. Indeed Yvonne received a letter in February 1958 personally signed by each of the ‘Hands in the Holy Land’ enthusing about both the incorporation of the Belfast Local Spiritual Assembly, and its newly acquired centre.

The spectrum of those becoming Bahá’ís spanned social class and age. School students, undergraduates and many others, visited the Macdonald household, independently seeking answers to the purpose of life, and they included Colin King, Patricia Montgomery (Jamshidi), June Glover, Hazel Aikman and Keith Munro. Margaret McNabney, the Macdonalds’ weekly cleaning lady, also declared. A frequent visitor to the Macdonald home was the truly lovely Lisbeth Greaves who would often arrive with a trug of fresh flowers and other pickings from her fertile garden. Another vibrant Bahá’í was Jane Villiers-Stuart, and Iain was able to enjoy the company of her children Sally, Virginia, Garry and Katherine. And contentedly puffing his pungent pipe over the proceedings was the redoubtable John McGinley, who faced with difficult words in Bahá’í prayers would cheerfully utter “Skip it!”

Both Charles and Yvonne served on the Northern Ireland Teaching Committee. Jane Villiers Stuart’s van bounced the family and others down the rocky road to Dublin to share weekend schools with the southern Irish Friends, travelling across what was then a still policed and armed border. The weekend schools were often held in rather cheap and cheerful hotels which ironically boasted a lively bar. The stale smell of beer would permeate the rooms above where the Bahá’ís were changing the world!

Adib Taherzadeh and his young family were residents of Dublin in those early days, and Adib was a most extraordinary and eloquent link with the Faith’s history and teachings. There were few Bahá’ís in those days, but they were characterised by a remarkable depth of steadfastness and commitment, and there was one occasion when several of them met a frail, but mighty soul, George Townshend – Irish Hand of the Cause.

Charles was an avid reader of Bahá’í books, but his own depth of knowledge was balanced by an extraordinary gift to communicate that knowledge to others – in ways which made it intriguing, accessible and illuminating, laced with empathy and wit. Yvonne was distinctly shy, and was appalled at the idea of ‘public speaking’, but she radiated great compassion to others; was instantly trusted as a confidante and sympathetic listener. She had a remarkable talent for making people truly welcome (and well-fed!) within her home, and she taught the Faith in a way which brought several declarations.

Yvonne’s personal courage and sacrifice was exemplified in a lone move to Motherwell in Scotland for a few months, so as to secure its Local Spiritual Assembly.

In 1961 Charles was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles in a by-election to replace Ian Semple, who had been elected to the International Bahá’í Council. This election was to impact and resonate through the lives of Charles and Yvonne for many, many years to come, as Charles served later as the National Assembly’s Treasurer, and then in 1970 was elected its Secretary.

In 1962 pilgrimage took the three Macdonalds to Haifa. Having travelled by land across Europe, they sailed from Greece to Israel, approaching the sight from the sea of Mount Carmel’s radiant, golden dome, sharp against a cold, blue March sky.

They were met at the quayside by Jessie Revell, and taken to the Western Pilgrim House opposite the House of Abdu’l-Bahá. There was a large hall from which their guest rooms branched off, and at each end were the small apartment homes of Leroy and Sylvia Ioas and John and Dorothy Ferraby. Leroy and Sylvia were later to attend an Irish Summer School at Mourne Grange in Northern Ireland.

With the passing of the Guardian the Faith was literally protected and sustained by the Hands of the Cause. They followed to the letter the Guardian’s guidance for the remaining part of the Ten Year Crusade, and several became the ‘Hands Residing in the Holy Land’ where later the first International Bahá’í Council was established.

The pilgrimage touched the closing days of the Fast, but as travellers they were not expected to keep the fast. The other Western pilgrims were Mr and Mrs Semple (staying with their son Ian, at that time a member of the International Bahá’í Council) and Dr Edris Rice-Wray, then a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Mexico, and an eminent scientist working for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The family had daily contact with the Hands of the Cause, and in particular Leroy Ioas, Paul Haney, John Ferraby, Mr Faizi and Mr Furútan. Amatu’l Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum entertained the Macdonald trio to lunch later in the pilgrimage.

In those days pilgrims stayed in the Mansion at Bahjí, and as it turned out the Macdonalds found themselves there on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, and with the Semples and Dr Edis Rice-Wray ended that evening’s supper by singing Irish songs! The impact of those three days in Bahjí was deep and palpably abiding, and the family found themselves one day at dusk, standing outside the steps and main door into the Mansion, no one else around – the vibrant and haunting image of a dream.

Having pioneered into Belfast and served it devotedly for many years, Charles and Yvonne moved into the District of Castlereagh to help build another Local Spiritual Assembly.

Iain was now a student in London and returning to Northern Ireland only during the termly breaks.

In April 1970 Charles was elected by the National Spiritual Assembly as its Secretary, replacing Betty Reed, now one of the newly appointed Counsellors for Europe. It was at this point that Charles relinquished his senior Civil Service post, sold the family home, and went to live with Yvonne in the top floor flat at the National Haziratu’l-Quds – 27 Rutland Gate, London.

There was no particular concept of ‘office hours’ and their lives were now at the full service of the Faith. Yvonne devotedly supported Charles through the next four years as he served the British Friends with great skill as an administrator, advisor and teacher. Yvonne sustained her natural role as a loving hostess, extending hospitality to a gamut of international visitors. The downside was being woken at 6am by Bahá’ís arriving in London wanting to know the way to the Guardian’s Resting Place.

In 1974 they moved to realise a long cherished aim – to pioneer for the Faith overseas.

They chose to pioneer to Africa, as after all Charles had been born in South Africa. The Universal House of Justice thanked them, and praised their intention, but suggested that it would be particularly ‘meritorious’ to go to India. They went to India.

Charles was appointed as Secretary of the National Teaching Committee and Manager of the Indian Bahá’í Publishing Trust! Yvonne volunteered in the office at Delhi’s ‘Bahá’í House’, proof–reading draft publications. Both Charles and Yvonne travelled extensively in India, essentially based in Delhi, but for one year they lived in Kerala, situated on the southwestern coast of India. They also visited Bangalore several times, particularly when the heat of Delhi became too unbearable. Charles demonstrated frying an egg on their balcony floor during a Delhi summer.

Throughout their six to seven years in India they remained close and loving friends with the wonderful Ramnik Shah – long time Secretary of the National Assembly of India. They worked closely too with Counsellor Shirin Fozdar and the radiant Gloria Faizi.

On one occasion they travelled with Rúhíyyih Khánum and Violette Nakjavani to Chandigarh in the Punjab, and Yvonne remembers sitting on the floor in some rest house sharing out food! Khánum presented a beautiful sari to Yvonne as a token of love as she herself liked to wear a sari on occasion.

In later years Charles was appointed an Auxiliary Board member and he finally worked closely on site with Fariburz Sahba, the gifted architect of the stunning Indian Temple. In a later year, after resettling in England, they brought their fourteen year old grandaughter, Suzi, to the dedication of the Delhi Temple. Charles wrote an article in 1985 for a special edition of ‘Bahá’í News – India’ entitled ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ in which he quoted his beloved Tennyson from the visionary ‘Akbar’s Dream’:

‘That stone by stone I rear’d a sacred fane,
A temple, neither Pagod, Mosque, nor Church,
But loftier, simpler, always open-door’d
To every breath from heaven, and Truth and Peace
And Love and Justice came and dwelt therein;

(and then despairingly)

I watch’d my son,
And those that follow’d, loosen, stone from stone,
All my fair work; and from the ruin arose
The shriek and curse of trampled millions, even
As in the time before; but while I groan’d,
From out the sunset pour’d an alien race,
Who fitted stone to stone again, and Truth,
Peace, Love and Justice came and dwelt therein…

Both Charles and Yvonne lived modestly in India, often moving apartments, as Yvonne had an unquenchable need for ‘a change’! They bore the heat and humidity with courage, and the inevitable great tests that accompany serving the Faith. Charles was a strategic thinker and doer, and found both the bureaucracy and cultural ‘relaxation’ of India very trying! Yvonne loved India and its people deeply, and was much loved for her self-effacement and kindness.

Charles developed a wide range of correspondence courses designed to help newly-declared Bahá’ís consolidate their understanding – there were no Ruhi books in those days – which were still being used long after his departure, and which had been translated into other languages. Both he and Yvonne found themselves received by both people of influence and high status, and people who had little or nothing materially. They travelled to remote villages with a translator, and Yvonne braced herself to the delights of tea with a lump of Ghee dropped into it. ‘Ghee’ was prepared by simmering butter, which is churned from cream, and removing the liquid residue; however the taste of ghee depends on the quality of the butter, the source of the milk used in the process and the duration of the boiling. Variable!

They finally returned from India in 1981 and bought a house in Melton Mowbray, and were just relaxing into a simple life of English domesticity when Charles was re-elected to the National Assembly. He once again became its Treasurer and then, in May 1985, quite startlingly for his family, Secretary. Once again they moved into the familiarity of 27 Rutland Gate, and its attendant daily challenges. It was an extraordinary turn of events. This time he served as secretary until 1987.

Charles and Yvonne could so easily have retreated from service, but that desire to pioneer and teach was again fulfilled in January 1990 with a voluntary offer of a term of three months each (equal to six months pioneering service) to the NSA of Cyprus. That NSA requested they settle in Paphos, in the South of the island, but they were asked to make as many visits to the North of Cyprus as possible. Charles and Yvonne conducted deepenings on ‘Consultation’ for the Cyprus NSA. Yvonne separately attended a Women’s Conference in Lapithos (North Cyprus), and both attended a Winter School in the North where Charles addressed ‘The Sanctity and Nature of Bahá’í Elections’.

Eric Hellicar, a member of the Cyprus NSA, remembers their ‘delightful mixture of charm and wisdom. They had all the gifts of the Irish way of amusing and disarming their audience, whether in an NSA or a school or everyday conversation’. Eric also noted the differences in their characters – ‘Yvonne was a more cautious person, which made others talk to her more freely – something Cypriots appreciate. Charles was a dynamic personality, which they also liked, especially in Paphos…’

Charles and Yvonne representing the Bahá’í Faith at a formal occasion

A doctor had to be called one night for Charles who was showing worrying symptoms of illness, but they sustained their post of service, returning to England in the early Spring of 1990.

Charles asked to be relieved of his membership of the National Assembly. Only Charles knew at that point he was terminally ill with cancer. He and Yvonne were each presented at the National Convention by the incoming National Assembly with nine red roses. In a private letter to his son Iain, Charles wrote “Separation will be painful, but inevitable and a necessary part of the great cycle of existence for each one of us in the approach to the brilliant new vistas which lie ahead. Ya Bahá’u’l-Abhá!”

Charles passed away at his home in Norfolk on the 12th September 1991.

The Universal House of Justice described in a message that they were confident that the United Kingdom community would be inspired by his ‘noble life’, and praised his ‘distinguished services teaching, administration fields over three decades’ and the ‘enrichment of the annals of the Faith in the British Isles and in India’.. They praised ‘his loving nature, sterling qualities, radiant spirit animated by his intense love for the Blessed Beauty’.

Rúhíyyih Khánum sent a private cable in which she extolled Charles’ service to the Faith, and nursed the hope ‘British Bahá’í Youth will realise passing such heroic souls demands of them to arise, follow his footsteps and add lustre to the British Bahá’í Community’. Charles always had a remarkable gift for both enthusing and guiding the young, and for understanding their struggles, anxieties and doubts. He never ever condemned. Many young people looked on him as the most wise and caring of ‘uncles’!

For Yvonne Charles’ departure from his earthly life was truly devastating, but she sustained an active life, keeping close to her beloved family, and touching many people’s lives with her gentle kindness, empathy and humour. Her life lasted another twenty five years after Charles’ passing, and at ninety-nine she too passed away. On her last journey into hospital, one of the ambulance crew took to her instantly and wanted to adopt her as her mother! Yvonne was celebrated in a publicly shared message from the National Assembly, as well as having a representative of the National Assembly at her funeral.

In the later years of their marriage, and with the inevitable demands on Charles’s time and availability, Yvonne would say “Where’s Charles?” and Charles eventually turning up would say “Never fear, Charlie’s here!”

Both Charles and Yvonne lie buried in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich, close to where they finally lived. A beautifully engraved memorial stone of Welsh slate marks their mutual grave. Their lives were remarkable, spanning as they did the Faith’s ‘emergence from obscurity’, and they were part of a generation of Bahá’ís who served with extraordinary passion, love and an unshakeable vision. George Townshend in his essay ‘The Genius of Ireland’ described the ‘power of vision (as) an Irish gift. It marked the Irish long ago and it marks them now.’

Again Charles was enthralled by these lines from Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:

‘One God, one Law, one element

And one far-off divine event

To which the whole creation moves’

Both he and Yvonne were an intrinsic part of the realisation of that vision, within the British Isles, India and Cyprus, as well touching people’s hearts all over the world. Their lives were mutually bound in their love for Bahá’u’lláh.

_____________

 

Iain Macdonald

Norfolk, November 2017

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