My story begins with St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers. I feel he led me on a long journey to the Bahá’í Faith, which I found when I was 25.
My early religious experience was varied. I attended Presbyterian Sunday School first until I was 8, then moving to a different town went with friends to a Church of Ireland Sunday School, which was my mother’s background. At about 11 I tried a Methodist Sunday School, which was my father’s background. I did not enjoy these Sunday afternoons and longed to escape from the dark dusty rooms we met in. The God I believed in was outside and I imagined a form of worship which had no labels and where people met together in beautiful open places outside to worship.
The next stage on the ‘journey of search’ was when I attended Art School for four years. While there I painted a large oil on paper of St. Christopher carrying the little boy who was Jesus. The painting measured about five feet by seven. This was at a time when I became aware of students of all races and nationalities and realised there was prejudice and suspicion towards these people at that time in Northern Ireland. This worried me so much that eventually I joined a club called the International Friendship League, in Belfast, as I could identify with their aims. Another member at those meetings was Lady Hornell who, in several years’ time, would help me to understand a text of the Baha’i faith entitled The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. After a few years the club moved and its character changed as new people joined, so I left.
At this time the ‘journey’ made me aware of religious prejudice. Coming from a Protestant home, many of my friends were Catholic, which clearly caused difficulty. I was pained that religion should cause divisions. At this time, I also wanted to be closer to God and to do something positive about it. I even considered joining a church but did not like that divisive label. Then the real miracle began! I joined a WEA (Workers Educational Association) class on Comparative Religion, given by a Minister. He presented a different faith each week. One evening we heard about the Buddhist Faith and I was really surprised to hear words of Buddha which were so similar to the words of Jesus – and so many years earlier! The Minister said he would bring a question box the next week and this suited me as I was too shy at that time to speak in public. I wrote down for the question box: “Could it be possible that Buddha and all these great founders of religions were also Jesus with a different name at a different period in history?” Surely God would not leave all the millions of people over the world without a teacher until the coming of Jesus?” I never put forward my question as he forgot the box, so it lay forgotten in my handbag for several months – a question waiting to be answered.
Later I was persuaded by friends in the local Art Club in Bangor to take my rolled-up painting of St. Christopher and have it framed for our Easter exhibition. At the workshop, as I waited, a little boy appeared and invited me to meet his mother, Winnie Whelan, who welcomed me in, and I found I had a new friend. We talked of many things and the Catholic/Protestant problems. Winnie explained that she was a Bahá’í and told me of the teachings. I remembered later that I had seen an advertisement for a Bahá’í meeting some time before and had been impressed with the principles, and had momentarily considered going. Winnie lent me the compilation The Bahá’í Revelation. I went to Belfast for a week to see a friend, taking the book with me. As soon as I dipped into it, I was filled with excitement and fascination! I could not understand all I read, but was moved and awed by the power of the voice that seemed to vibrate through the pages. The answers to all my worries seemed to be found there. I returned home, in my heart a Bahá’í!
One day I was clearing out my handbag when I found that piece of paper with my question for the minister’s box. It was now fully answered! The minister could never have managed that.
The first meeting I attended soon after was a talk by Charles Macdonald in a café called the Dolly Varden in Bangor. I told Winnie I wanted to be a Bahá’í. She was delighted but asked me to wait for a month before making my ‘declaration’ because a man she felt was very special, Adib Taherzadeh, would be visiting us from Dublin. She said it would make him very happy.
The first Spiritual Assembly was formed in the winter of 1959 with the additional declarations of two teachers, Peggy Harrison and Grace Pritchard, who were good friends. This brought us to nine with Mr and Mrs David and Gladys Brown, Ivy Dominick, Peggy Harrison, Grace Pritchard, our pioneer Lady Hornell, Winnie Whelan and Billy Glass. I became Secretary of the LSA and later a delegate to National Convention. I also served on the Northern Ireland Teaching Committee held at the Belfast home of Charles and Yvonne Macdonald, along with Elizabeth Greeves.
At that time (circa 1958) I paid several visits to assist at firesides in Dublin. I first stayed with an elderly couple from Iran, Mr and Mrs Kouchekzadeh, and later several times in Dublin with Zarin and Adib Taherzadeh and their young family. On one visit there I was very depressed about the Assembly in Bangor and not able to speak at the fireside conversations, as usual. Afterwards Adib commented that I had been very quiet, and I started to cry. This is when he described the bricks in the well, featured later in his book Trustees of the Merciful. His words stayed in my mind though I was not able to use his advice as I soon moved away from Bangor to work in Scotland. However, later it was a great help.
In 1958, while still in Northern Ireland, the National Spiritual Assembly asked me if I would visit an isolated Bahá’í in Cork, Mrs Maude Bennett, who lived in a very large house in Ringaskiddy, outside Cork. She was of Australian background and an artist. She held a little art group with several friends. In 2002 I discovered how revered she was in Ireland when the Bahá’ís were choosing names for different teaching groups. They had named one in Cork area, the Maude Bennett group. She was an elderly lady at that time. She died several years ago now.
From 1960 I worked as a Planning Draughtswoman for Lanarkshire County Council in Hamilton. I lived in a large Georgian house owned by the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). It was a former infant school which my future husband, Robert, had attended many years before. It then became a manse. The nearest Bahá’ís were in Motherwell, just about two miles away, separated by the River Clyde. I soon moved there to board with Bahá’ís Margaret and Jim Coady.
The Motherwell Bahá’ís decided to hold a series of firesides in Hamilton and I was able to secure a disused hall in the grounds of the YWCA for our meetings. The YWCA building was demolished very soon after we moved. On a visit to Scotland several years later I was pleased to pass the steep, vacant site again and discover a large decorative flower bed there with “Welcome to Hamilton” spelt out clearly in white stones (surely the Bahá’í influence).
While working in Scotland I had the lovely experience of going to London to attend the first Bahá’í World Congress in the Royal Albert Hall. It was such a wonderful experience, especially to see such a large famous place packed with Bahá’ís in their colourful, beautiful costumes. I recall seeing panels in the underground trains about the Bahá’í Faith and being amazed at the newspapers having headlines about our Albert Hall gathering. Several people were selling these newspaper supplements to the Bahá’ís outside the Hall. I met up with Winnie Whelan and Lisbeth Greeves, also Charles and Yvonne Macdonald, and spoke to a very old Aborigine man, ‘Uncle’ Fred Murray, who was so pleased to meet the other Bahá’ís.
I recall walking along with Adib Taherzadeh as we all went for lunch and he asked me if I would paint a picture of his father, a well-known Bahá’í in Iran who met Bahá’u’lláh. It was an honour to do this, and he took the painting to Haifa when he became a member of the Universal House of Justice. Lisbeth Greeves was also travelling the world about that time and she attended the opening of the Kampala Temple and also the Sydney Temple in 1961. For both of these visits she asked if I would paint watercolours of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to give to them. I wonder if they are still there.
Lisbeth told us that at the opening of the African Temple there were many policemen stationed outside. This was because sometimes two tribes were liable to fight one another and they expected trouble. A policeman told her they were amazed that everything was so friendly and peaceful.
Originally, I attended Art School in Belfast. I paint in both watercolour and oils. Several of my paintings have been taken and presented to some of the Bahá’í Temples around the world. I once painted a large picture, which was on display at a long-term exhibition, outside, in Exmouth when the new shopping centre was being built. I later sent it to the National Bahá’í Centre at Rutland Gate where it was put in storage for possible future use. I still paint and exhibit locally. Recently I exhibited five paintings when the Devon Bahá’ís held a big exhibition over two days in the market town of Ashburton. The event was to proclaim the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh and we felt it was a great success, especially the organisation of something so large in such a short time.
Soon after I became a Bahá’í I gave Winnie Whelan a present of a watercolour painting I did of the face of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This stayed in her living room and later after her death, her son Paul gave it to the Bahá’ís of Bangor. For several years it hung in the new Bahá’í Centre there until the centre closed. On a visit to Northern Ireland many years later, Beman Khosravi told me that Peggy Harrison, one of the original Bahá’ís in Bangor, was looking after it. More recently Barbara Boyle, a Bahá’í in Northern Ireland, has informed me that the painting is currently being housed in a private room in her house in Bangor, treasured and much admired.
In November 1964 I moved back to Northern Ireland to work with the new planning authority formed to create a new town, Craigavon, south of Belfast (since abandoned). I was happy to return to my home area but the unexpected happened! During my month’s notice I became more friendly with a widower, Robert Bruce, who looked after the administration in my department and had always been very kind and helpful. We agreed to keep in touch, which culminated in our marriage the following August. Our wedding, in 1966, was conducted at my parents’ home by Lisbeth Greeves. Robert (Bob) was not a Bahá’í; in fact, he was the organist and choir master of a village Free Presbyterian Church near Hamilton. He listened to the Bahá’í teachings with an open mind and said that ‘music’ was his main interest in the church.
Bob had a son Donny, aged 25 who was in Germany with the army, and Sheila, his 14-year old daughter, lived with us. She was in her first year at the Glasgow School of Art. On our return to Hamilton, Bob was introduced to the other Bahá’ís in Motherwell. I am afraid we were all unaware at the time that non-Bahá’ís were not permitted to be present during the consultative part of a feast unless it was a special celebration. For about two years Bob came with me. He was a very relaxed, friendly person, and glad to take part. However, at some stage the Sabits discovered the error and broke the news to me. It was extremely difficult to explain this to Bob but he didn’t take offence and I was so relieved to find, after discussion about it, that he was not angry and still willing to come to the more open events.
At this stage Hamilton began to come alive as a Bahá’í community as well. Nuri Sabit’s parents, Rustam and Banu Sabit, went to live there. Rustam had lived in India and I think may have served on the National Spiritual Assembly there; also there was Yousef and Farideh Navai with their young children. Bob was able to help them find a council house through help from a planner in his department. We met as a group and then a couple, Buzz and Judy, arrived from America, and also Paul Adams and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. (Paul was Knight of Bahá’u’lláh to Spitsbergen).
Soon after this a strange, challenging period began. Buzz and Judy were ex-hippies and would still give that image to locals in their style and dress. They were extremely active as teachers and our meetings became crowded with young people, many of whom looked as though they might have been drinking alcohol and taking drugs. After a year or so a sieving process began to take place as it seemed many realised that our lifestyle was not for them. However, a small number of young men remained. My husband had been feeling uneasy as the hippie way of life was quite alien to his upbringing, as it would have been to the Sabits too, I imagine, and he was reluctant to be involved. This period of ‘trials’ lasted for a few years. We were then joined by John and Zoe Turner. Zoe was a teacher training student with me at Hamilton College where I was in my third year as a mature student.
While I was in Scotland, we attended a weekend school at Perth. This was Bob’s first. He had two experiences there which made a great impression on him. Hand of the Cause William Sears was visiting and was scheduled to give a talk at the school. We arrived shortly before the talk but the room was packed, with many people sitting on the floor. Some space was made for us to walk towards chairs towards the back of the room close to the window. As we neared the back of the room, a man in a white suit got up from the floor and greeted Bob with both hands. We were seated and then to Bob’s amazement this same man made his way to the front of the room where he delivered an excellent and humorous talk. He was Bill Sears (Hand of the Cause)! The humility of this man was new to Bob as his previous experience of speakers was generally of their ‘importance’ and distance from their audience.
During the weekend we had a study session and we were formed into small groups to read about the journeys of the Báb through Iran. Each person was given two minutes to say something about their ‘findings’ with a brutal cut-off. One Bahá’í I remember in our group of four was Mollie Hughes. We both ran out of time. However, Bob was used to explaining things, having been a captain in Army Reserve when he was a young man. He drew a map on a blackboard of Iran and pointed out the places, joined them and made a star! There was a great cheer and laughter from the friends there as he had made it in the time! Betty Reed came over and gave him a big hug! He was very moved by this and quite amazed at the good humour and affection afforded to him. Here was a non-Bahá’í explaining the Bahá’í stories!
About this time my father died. Due to all the troubles in Northern Ireland, my parents had planned to move away, my brother also having married and moved to Lincolnshire. My mother decided to move to Lympstone, near Exmouth. We planned to move too when Bob retired, to southern Scotland as the Hamilton area was by then very industrial. By this time Sheila had completed art school and teacher training and had become engaged to a fellow student. They decided to set off for Australia under an immigrant scheme.
After two years we had an urgent message that my mother was in hospital, having had a serious heart attack. The specialist told us that she needed to be with family as it was possible she might have another heart attack at any time. As my brother had small children, she decided to go and live with them in Grantham, and sell her bungalow. We thus changed our minds about moving in Scotland, and in 1973 bought my mother’s bungalow.
We soon located the nearest Bahá’ís in Exeter. It was the time of our Convention and the secretary, Joyce Sherwani, directed us to the venue, St. David’s Hall. We met many Bahá’ís there – Robert Scrutton (the writer and chiropractor) and his wife Nora, Dorothy Hambling and her husband Arthur, who was a lighthouse keeper, Peter and Sheila Lee, Sherie and Houshie Rouhipour, Carole and Bryan Huxtable with their children, and Joyce Sherwani. A blind gentleman was the chairman. Bob would come with me to feasts in Exeter. Most feasts were held at Joyce’s home and Bob was happy to spend the time with her husband Nuzrat, who was also not a Bahá’í.
I was always so amazed at my husband Bob’s ability to speak to people about Bahá’u’lláh that one day I asked “Why are you not a Bahá’í? You sound as though you believe it”. He just smiled, and said “Give me time!” Our ensuing travels, I believe, gave him the time he needed.
About a year after we moved to Devon, a young couple called at our house, Jeremy and Christine Herbert. It was lovely to share feasts with them, and Christine and I joined a yoga class. We met Ruth Blair, Jeremy’s mother. Ruth, ‘Roo’, had been a widow and later remarried, becoming Roo Blair, and it was not long before she also became a Bahá’í. Very soon Jeremy and Christine had a very happy Bahá’í wedding held in Ruth’s lovely garden.
Before Jeremy and Chris left the area, Roo, Chris and I travelled by coach up to Teaching Conference in Blackpool. We shared an apartment for the weekend and Chris’ mother, Mrs Tulip, who had just become a Bahá’í, joined us. I remember that Betty Goode was serving on the NSA at the time and I remember she gave a short presentation on stage at the conference. At one of the lunch breaks I went to find a restaurant. It was pouring with rain and I hurried to one near the conference hall. I stopped to read the menu on the very steamed-up front window and was surprised to see a hand rubbing away the steam inside and then beckoning to me! Going inside, there were Betty and Ken Goode smiling and inviting me to sit with them. I had not met them in person before and I was very glad of their company. As they also lived in the South West, in Cornwall, we visited each other a lot after that and Bob enjoyed being with them.
Bob’s daughter, my stepdaughter Sheila, emigrated to Australia in 1965 while we were still living in Scotland. They married quietly in Melbourne in 1966. Their first báby, Douglas, was born in 1981 and we decided to visit them, by way of Canada. The Navai family, who had moved to Vancouver from Hamilton, Scotland, were also in touch and invited us to visit. In 1982 we flew to Vancouver and were met by them. They had a lovely home overlooking the bay. They were very kind and we attended a huge feast in their home. We had not experienced a large feast of that size before – possibly 40 people!
We were told it was only one area of Vancouver, as feasts were also held in two other areas of the city. Our room was overlooking the large living room and one night I opened the door at about 2 am and peered out to the living room, surprised to see a lighted disc on top of a cabinet. It was glowing, and a painting of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was surrounded by the glow. This had been a souvenir plate Yousef had once bought, covered with paint and a painting of an Arab on it. Yousef had noticed that it was covering a plate of alabaster with lovely markings. When in Hamilton, he asked Bob if he could remove the painting and that work revealed a beautiful dish. Yousef had asked me if I would paint ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the plain surface. Since then he had this dish mounted on a carved rosewood base and placed a light behind it to reveal the markings.
Following Elizabeth Greeves’ example, I wrote to Canadian Bahá’í communities to find out if we could meet them. We visited Powell river on the sunshine coast north of Vancouver and met a group of three Bahá’ís, one of whom had been a pioneer to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Bob had become interested in stories of his family in Canada, told by his brothers who had farmed there for ten years before returning to Scotland after a long drought in the Prairies.
Hawaii to Fiji
In Fiji we stayed at Nandi Airport hotel, arriving at night. We contacted the Lucas family and Mrs Lucas asked us to get in touch with a young lady who lived nearby. We made plans with her by phone to meet her at a bus stop almost opposite the hotel.
When we arrived at the Lucas home, she greeted us and allowed us the freedom of the house while she worked. She was a welfare officer. We were travel weary, so just glad to relax for the day. After a pleasant evening meal when Mr Lucas returned from work, we were taken off road in their jeep along some very rough tracks for some distance and then up a steep hillside through sugar cane fields onto open hillside. A little corrugated iron shack stood there, darkness all around us. A very thin Indian man in a vest came out to greet us and invited us inside to meet his young wife. He wanted to consult Mrs Lucas about a problem with his land. We retraced our way along the track and suddenly turned into a dark courtyard with silhouettes of large barn-like buildings surrounding it. About seven people stood outside one, waiting to greet us, and we were taken inside a large dark room where other people were sitting around a large table. A lady was stirring a pot on some kind of fire. We were given a good welcome and each person was given a large bowl of stew. This was a Bahá’í Community. They knew the Lucas’s well but we did not understand everything they said. When we left, everyone shook our hands and waved. Their smiles showed up in the very dim light.
Arriving in Australia we met Bob’s daughter Sheila and husband Ian, with Douglas, their almost one-year old boy. They lived 50 miles outside Melbourne in bush country near the Dandenong Ranges. Ian was almost completing building a mud brick bungalow. It still had some windows missing but was very spacious with open country views and nearest neighbours quite some distance away. During a happy time there, an important time came for Bob when Sheila called us to see the Bahá’ís on TV. She had accepted the fact he was a Baha’i. Every year in Melbourne there is a huge parade of floats organised to celebrate the different cultures in Australia. It is very colourful. There in the middle was a striking float and it belonged to the Bahá’ís in different national costumes. Later we returned home to Lympstone via Singapore meeting Baha’is at their Centre.
While we were living in the Exmouth area, Barney Leith asked me to be his assistant for Protection when he was Auxiliary Board member. It was a short assignment as his time ended in this capacity after a year. During this time, I made several visits to Exeter, Torbay and to Newton Abbot. Barney encouraged me to think of any ideas for further teaching. At that time Bob and I enjoyed renting an apartment for a holiday and I had the idea we could book out of season, in some Devon town, cheap accommodation for a mini-school. I found a suitable place at a small village on Exmoor called South Molton. It was not far from North Molton, home of an isolated Bahá’í, Josephine (Jo) Woodthorpe.
I put an advert in the Bahá’í Journal and had several replies. However, the house was limited to six people only and each caller wanted more accommodation. Then a phone call came from Dermod Knox. He wanted to book for four people. Before the arranged date, Parvin Fouroughi (from Exeter) and I travelled to the area, saw the house which looked out over a lovely view of Exmoor, and said some prayers for the event. We had a wonderful weekend with Dermod and Roushan Knox and their friend Nemat Askew, with her adult son. During that time, we also had visits from Mitra Broad and Jo.
Not long after coming home, I was sitting in the sun in our garden, and Bob came out and put his signed declaration card in my lap. He had been given the time he asked for and I am sure his experience with his Bahá’í daughter was what he had been waiting for!
Bob had a Japanese sister-in-law, Furnie Macdonald. We kept in touch and in the course of several years she visited us in Devon and invited us to visit her in Japan, where I asked for details of a Bahá’í contact. We were surprised to find that we were booked on an inaugural flight from Belgium over the North Pole and Siberia to Japan. There was a grand ceremony, with invited officials and the cutting of a thick ribbon at the passenger entrance and we were all given a small box of Belgian chocolates. Furnie’s flat was tiny with one bedroom and a kitchen-living room where we slept, with a view of Mount Fuji. We soon contacted an American lady, Janet Imaki, married to a Japanese Buddhist. We arranged to go with her by car to a meeting at the Bahá’í headquarters in Tokyo.
The surroundings were pretty with a lot of trees and raised flower beds. The transforming power of Bahá’u’lláh! In keeping with Japan, the entrance hall contained a large bookcase with many slip-on slippers for us to wear. The room for the meeting was upstairs. There were many nationalities there and a Feast was held. Afterwards a lady proudly showed us a framed original writing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s which was hanging in a corner. For some years I kept in touch with Janet.
Back home, life with Bahá’í events began again. Roo had passed away and Jeremy and Chris and family were in Wales. However, a Catholic lady and near-neighbour in our road, and also a local village lady from Lympstone, started to come to our fireside, and Bahá’í friends came from Exeter to support us.
Return to Canada
Once again we decided on a trip to Canada. We visited my cousin Eileen who had married a Canadian Air Force man during the war, then flew to Vancouver and travelled by bus to Kelowna to see the Navais. Yousef had a lot of land which he farmed, and Farideh was working as a doctor. One weekend Yousef said we were all going to a special event on an Indian reservation. It was in the mountains outside Kelowna. It seems many years ago one of this tribe was a Bahá’í but had been buried without any special gravestone. Now there were more Bahá’ís in the tribe and they planned to put down a special gravestone and hold an all-day ‘potlatch’ event to commemorate the occasion. When we arrived, large cars were arriving bearing other representatives of tribes from other parts of Canada, and also over the border in America. Many looked very grand in their headdresses and beaded gowns. We noticed several people standing watching as we made our way inside. Soon, about six men sat in a circle in the large room and a bunch of herbs was lit which smoked, and in turn the men wafted this herb smelling smoke over their hair and bodies, then proceeded to chant and beat the large drum in the centre between them.
When we were all settled and the doors closed, a very dignified elderly chief got up to welcome us. He spoke of an Indian tradition which said “When the moon comes down to the earth, the Indian man will become free again to observe his traditions, wear his dress, and smoke his peace pipe”. He said Indians were not allowed by law to do these things any more. Then the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, brought back rocks from its surface, which were displayed for all to see. The moon had come to the earth! Soon after, a new law had been passed in Canada, giving the Indian nation their full rights and allowing them to play the drums again.
In the evening we all joined in a friendship dance. We formed a long row along the walls of the room. The Chief who had spoken first led the procession while the drummers played. The line doubled back on itself and each person who passed lifted a thumb for you to grip briefly with yours, until everyone in the room had greeted everyone else! It was a fascinating experience although Farideh and Yousef said they found the constant drumming quite difficult. After Bob died, I returned to Canada, en route for a cruise to Alaska, with the widow of Paul Whelan, the small boy who had introduced me to his Baha’i mother. After the cruise and a train tour of the Rocky Mountains, we separated and I went to see the Naváis again. It was a great family reunion as their three daughters and husbands and children were also visiting. I was made to feel one of the family and it was a lovely occasion. I also spent a day with Kay, and her husband, who was an eye specialist. I was intrigued to visit his consulting rooms in Kelowna and find the waiting room decorated with prints of Lympstone views I had painted years before!
For the Centenary of the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, there was the Baha’i World Congress taking place in New York, and we decided to go. As our plane departed, a gentleman took the seat beside us. Right away he said ‘Hello Dorothy’! He was an Iranian with a Northern Irish accent, Rustam Jamshidi, whom I had known when he was a young man visiting Winnie Whelan in Bangor. This was an amazing event! So many Bahá’ís from all over the world were present to hear the wonderful choir, music, and inspiring talks from Rúhíyyih Khánum and the Hands of the Cause.
In November 1992 we went on pilgrimage, which proved to be a true pilgrimage for Bob. He was moved by the experience but was also exhausted and in his mid-eighties by this time. Every night in the hotel he went to bed at about 5.30 or 6pm.
One visit was to the House of Abud in Acre. When I saw the tall flight of stairs up to the rooms, I asked Bob to sit in the hall while we went up the stairs. However, two Persian pilgrims, his trusty helpers who had supported him earlier, thought he must see Bahá’u’lláh’s house, and transported him up the steep flight and down again! Our guide to the Holy places was Adib’s wife, Lesley Taherzadeh, and we very much appreciated her explanations. We also met Adib when the House of Justice members came to mingle with the pilgrims.
A year passed after our pilgrimage and Bob developed jaundice. He was taken to hospital and recovered in a few days but I was told he had suffered a stroke while there, which affected his leg. A long series of events occurred with a transfer to our local hospital and several months in a recovery centre. He finally came back home but it was all too much and he died quietly at home, ending his life a month short of his 89th birthday.
I formed a plan of action after this major change and decided Lympstone would be quite hilly and difficult as I aged and stopped driving. I decided I would move to Exmouth. However, I decided to pioneer before that. I rented out my bungalow for a year and set off for Australia on the day after the eclipse of the sun. It turned out to be a very delayed journey to Heathrow as the roads were filled with returning spectators.
I first stayed with relatives of my husband in Perth, Western Australia, then took the Ghan train overnight to Alice Springs. I was given a warm welcome from former nun Kate Dwyer, who had already written to me, and Joanne Jordan, an American lady. I found a small unfurnished cottage to rent, just ten minutes’ walk from the town centre. I think it was just there for me as it was, unusually, Devon style, with false wooden shutters on the two front windows, and a red pantile roof. When it thundered and poured with rain, it turned out to be the usual noisy tin roof! The local Bahá’ís passed on news of my need for furniture and very soon a van arrived with a bed, a settee and a chest of drawers. Dishes and cooking pots also turned up.
It was a wonderful period, memories of which I will always treasure. The Bahá’í feasts were quite an occasion. Many people turned up and they were often held in a garden at night. The non-Aborigines liked to sit on the chairs under the garden lights, while the others preferred to sit cross-legged along the edge of the grass. Kate would sit down beside them.
I soon took up cycling again, after about thirty years. It was handy to travel further in town to events and I volunteered to organise and list the Bahá’í library books held at one of the houses on the other side of town. I also joined the Red Cross Meals on Wheels service, and attended a printing class in the Art Department of Centralian College.
When I was preparing to leave, there was a small farewell party among the Bahá’ís. I was pleasantly surprised when Marie, the first Aboriginal Baha’i of the area, a head elder of the tribe, stood near me and grasped my hand. There is a shyness about the Aborigines, especially the older ones and, in general, they do not like to have direct eye contact, preferring to speak with eyes averted. We exchanged glances and I was very touched by the occasion. I was also presented with a lovely tape of messages from members of the Community and two Aborigine-designed necklaces. The Aboriginees call Alice Springs the ‘healing place’ and for me it truly was.
Returning to Lympstone, it was time to think of moving to Exmouth as planned. It took over a year to sell my house and I found an apartment in a lovely position, high up, overlooking the bay and sands.
I then pioneered to Ireland for two years and the Irish National Assembly asked me to settle in Sligo. However, just a week before leaving I had a phone call from the Pioneer Committee and was asked if I would consider altering my plans as Shannon in County Clare needed a Baha’i more urgently than Sligo. It was a shorter journey away so I agreed and soon headed for Shannon.
The unity among the Irish Bahá’ís was wonderful. Many had been Bahá’ís since their youth and their families had grown up together and come into the Faith due to the great teaching efforts in the early 1970s which at that time included Adib Taherzadeh, Lesley Gibson and Gillian Phillips in and around Limerick. In Shannon we held a monthly, advertised meeting with readings and music in a central community hall.
We travelled a lot. Sometimes we went to lively events in a home near Ennis or met the Limerick Bahá’ís in their homes or in a Limerick hotel where there were regular talks on the Faith. A large group of African men, who were refugees from the Congo, came to the Ennis meetings. They were all members of a choir in Africa and we had several really musical evenings. One evening when I attended the hotel fireside in Limerick, I was surprised to meet the Bahá’í speaker. It was Dr Keith Munro from Northern Ireland, whom I had not seen for 40 years.
During my time in Shannon I volunteered to help people with reading difficulties. This later became helping people fill out government forms, and followed to helping in the rehabilitation of addicts using artwork. Later I was asked to join a small team who were working to integrate gypsy families. They had sessions on make-up, shopping, talks and occasional outings in a mini-van.
In 2002, I was present when the local Bahá’ís meeting in Limerick voted on names for their teaching group. To my curiosity they chose the name ‘Stan Wrout’ Group. I did not know about this pioneer who had come from England in 1970 to pioneer to Co. Clare and after a week, lost his life, drowning in the sea while swimming. While in Ireland we travelled in a large group to his burial place in Kilbaha, a remote coastal village where his body was finally found washed up across the mouth of the estuary from the opposite shore to where he had been bathing. He is buried behind a stone wall just beside the sea. We all spent time weeding the large grave area and leaving flowers there.
My two years in Ireland soon passed, and I motored home with the car packed with Irish souvenirs and a bicycle. My Bahá’í adventures were however not over, and I decided to apply for pilgrimage again and soon had dates. On Mount Carmel it was not long before I met Parvin Foroughi from Exeter, who was working at the Bahá’í World Centre.
One special moment was a visit to the Pilgrim Centre at night. It had not been built on my previous visit and was very beautiful. After a while I decided to take a short walk outside. It was dark and quiet, but warm and lit by a full moon. It occurred to me that I felt very different and secure, being there in the moonlight, more so than I would anywhere else, in the gardens where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Bahá’u’lláh had walked. It was a special, memorable moment I will never forget.
Back home in Devon a Chinese Bahá’í lady, Mai, got in touch. She was attending Exmouth Rolle College (Teacher Training). She was a really nice young lady with a six-year old son called Jun. We became good friends and I took them to different Bahá’í events in East Devon and Exeter and attended some of the College special events. For a time, they became my lodgers. At about this time, I attended training sessions in Liverpool for the new tutors to help with the new Ruhi study books being introduced. Mai and I decided to follow the course as well. She had two friends who wanted to join, and I asked two old Lympstone friends. After a year, Mai completed her qualification and after moving on to Huddersfield University she invited me to travel to China with her, which I accepted. I decided also to pay a last visit to Australia at the same time and to include a month in Alice Springs.
Mai saw to it that I experienced the highlights of China. We spent a day visiting the Emperor’s Palace. We had a few evenings out, one being in a booked room with friends of Mai’s, some of whom were Bahá’ís. After Beijing, arriving in Melbourne I was met by my step-daughter Sheila who took me to her home in Geelong. I stayed for several days and then joined a tour of New Zealand. I had decided to visit Alice Springs again, where I was delighted to see Kate Dwyer, with Bea, and she invited me to join a get-together of the Bahá’ís next day in a restaurant.
Back home and settling into Devon life again, I had a visit from Paul Whelan and his wife Jean from Wales. It was to be the last time I would see Paul. Just two weeks after, Jean rang to say he had stopped breathing during the night and had died. He was just in his fifties. She told me there would be two ceremonies, one for his work friends and local people in Wales, and one in Allestree in Derbyshire where Jean’s family lived. They had been married in the local church, and a baby son was buried in the graveyard there. She asked if I would suggest some Bahá’í readings and deliver them during each ceremony, the Ministers having given their permission. It was very moving for me to speak the Baha’i words and to remember Paul’s contribution to making me a Bahá’í.
In 2015 I decided to move to a sheltered apartment in Exmouth. We had almost formed our Spiritual Assembly for East Devon, having eight Bahá’ís at one time. However, plans change and now we have a community of eight in East Devon. We have a regular local newsletter produced by Stephanie Houghton. Apart from gatherings for feasts and Holy Days, a regular fireside is held by Dermod Knox in remembrance of the Prisoners in Iran, and I hold a small fireside afternoon of readings and meditation with support from Helen Babb from Chudleigh, once a month. It is advertised on our notice board in the apartments but so far, no residents have ventured forth!
Devon, January 2019