A Legacy of Love

Edited by Marion Douglas Kerans

A Legacy of Love
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Muriel Duckworth passed away August 22, 2009 in her one hundred and first year. In the weeks that followed memorial services were held in Austin Quebec, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. People from across Canada recognized that her passing marked the end of ... Read more


Overview

Muriel Duckworth passed away August 22, 2009 in her one hundred and first year. In the weeks that followed memorial services were held in Austin Quebec, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. People from across Canada recognized that her passing marked the end of an era and they wanted to not only remember her but to come together to be a part of her ongoing legacy of love. This book brings together stories from Muriel’s family and close friends from the past dozen years of her life. It is a collection of incredible tales of Muriel’s ability to reach out to people, her humour, her deep affection for her family, her ongoing activism and enduring political feistiness, her views on education, religion, death, war and love. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from Muriel’s later years.

Marion Douglas Kerans

Marion Douglas Kerans, herself an activist, lives in Ottawa. She is the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood 1996).

Excerpt

IntroductionThe news on Saturday, August 22, 2009, that Muriel Duckworth haddied in her one hundred and first year set wires buzzing acrossCanada. People wanted to talk about their experience of her. Some gaveinterviews to the media; others came together or phoned each other. In theweeks following, memorial services were held at Austin, Quebec, Halifax,Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. All of us recognized that herpassing marked the end of an era, but I sense that we came together notonly to remember her but to testify to Muriel’s ongoing legacy of love. In 1996 I was delighted when Fernwood published the biography ofMuriel that I had written. Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist wasinspired by my devotion to her. I’d had the opportunity to be close to herfor twenty years in Halifax. Muriel caused a significant change in my life, asI am sure she did for many, when in 1978 she introduced me to the peacemovement through the Voice of Women, a national peace organization. Muriel became my role model in countless ways. She reinforced the bestof my social work education as I watched her practise adult educationin both small informal groups and the large organizations she helped tofound. Her warm relationships with everyone were at once spontaneousyet carefully tended. Her behaviour was rooted in her principles, andher love for so many individuals reflected her love for humanity. Shecombined gentleness, tenacity, humour and fearlessness. Muriel becamethe mother I had never known since my own mother died when I was ayoung child. I expect she was a mother figure to many other women too. I,among thousands of Canadians, treasured her friendship. We respondedby giving the best we had to bring peace to the world. In the years when I was writing her biography, Muriel was accessibleto me at both her home in Halifax and her cottage in Austin, Quebec. A Legac y of Love8 . . . . Then I moved away to Vancouver and Ottawa when my husband retiredand only saw her for brief periods when we returned in the summertimeto our Maritime home. Because I had been spending less time with her,I asked some of Muriel’s family members and friends to share theirmemories of her during the last dozen years of her life. I knew there wasmore to her story than when I had left off in 1996, and I wanted readersof her biography to know about her closing years. Having reached oldage myself, as I read these essays, Muriel remains my model of how anaging lifetime activist can support and inspire younger activists and be asignificant elder in her family. These memories from “near and dear ones” are tales of Muriel’s humour,deep affection for her family, outreach to people, ongoing activismdespite her advanced age and lasting political “feistiness. ” They also relateher views on education, religion, death, war and love. As emails and letterspoured in and as I re-read the eulogies people had given at Muriel’smemorials, I felt called to arrange these memories into a huge bouquetof flowers for presentation to Muriel. This task eased my sad heart wheneverI thought I would like to phone her for one of our frequent chats. Ihope these beautiful writings bring as much enjoyment and solace to thecontributors and the readers as they do to me. For their pieces, I am grateful to Mariel Angus, Colleen Ashworth,Suellen Bradfield, Fatima Cajee, Jean Cooper, Micheline Delorme, AnnaDuckworth, Eleanor Duckworth, John Duckworth, Martin Duckworth,Marya Duckworth, Sylvia Duckworth, Tiffany Duckworth, SandyGreenberg, Martin Rudy Haase, Marie Hammond-Callaghan, PatKipping, Bonnie Klein, Marie Koehler, Megan Leslie, Helen Lofgren,Heather Menzies, Margaret Murphy, Elaine Newman, Marion Pape, RuthPlumpton, Betty Peterson, Anana Rydwald, Audrey Schirmer, DanielleSchirmer, Norma Scott, Errol Sharpe, Donna Smyth, Barbara Taylor,Gillian Thomas, Maureen Vine, Anne Wonham and Anne Marie Zilliacus. For pictures, I am grateful to Michael Bradfield, Jean Cooper, MichelineDelorme, John Duckworth, Kathleen Flanagan, David Henry, Joan BrownHicks, Pat Kipping, Terre Nash, Ruth Plumpton, Betty Peterson, PaulineRaven and Maureen Vine. Errol Sharpe of Fernwood gave me his generous encouragementRemembering Muriel Duckworth9 . . . . when I approached him about doing an addition to Muriel’s biography. His patience knew no bounds as I proposed one idea after another. Hewent one better by offering to publish a separate book. Thus was bornA Legacy of Love. Beverley Rach, the production coordinator, made myway as easy as possible as she helped me gather pictures and assigned thepublishing work. Brenda Conroy, the book’s designer, not only caughtmy editing errors but turned out this beautiful copy. I am also grateful toNancy Malek for her promotion and to John van der Woude for his designof the book’s cover. Finally, I was delighted when Sandor Fizli agreed tolet us use his beautiful portrait of Muriel on the cover. He captured herpensive mood, which in turn captures our hearts. The title of this collection is drawn from my own memory of Murielwhen we celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday in Halifax in 1987. Wearinga lovely rose gown, Muriel stood atop a circular coffee table so that shecould see everyone in the crowd of over two hundred well-wishers. Shethanked us all for coming and said, as she looked around at old friends andnew, that she wished she might personally introduce each one of us to theother and tell us how very special every one of us was. She reciprocatedour love and wanted to link each and every one of us to the other andto have us all appreciate each other. This is how I personally experienceMuriel’s legacy of love. When all of us who knew Muriel or wish we hadknown her join together we will make a difference. Visiting her one September morning of her last year, I jokingly remindedher that she had said at her seventy-fifth birthday that she wantedto live to be a hundred because she was curious to see how it would allturn out. (I think she hopefully expected that things would get better andthat the world would be closer to peace. ) Now, she looked at me sadly,shook her head and, on the verge of tears, said, “No, I don’t have to livethis long to see how it is turning out. ” Of course she was distressed by thewars still going on, and I was upset with myself for inadvertently causingher to feel this pain. I quickly changed the subject. I wish I had said thatshe continued to show us the way, although I realize we still have a longway to go to move from war and hatred to love and peace. Many of us heard Muriel repeat in her later years, “war is stupid!”and “what the world needs now is more love!” She distilled the wis ALegac y of Love10 . . . . dom of all her years into the pure gold of these words. And she insistedthat we all have to stand up and speak out against injustice and inequality. Muriel, who had given hundreds of speeches, written thousands ofletters, organized and attended countless meetings, she who spoke withsuch moving eloquence, still had a message to convey until her last days. I sense the message is that only love will conquer war. Muriel convincedme that what each of us needs and what the world needs is more love. Joyfully we will spend her legacy as we bring peace and justice to the world. This collection of remembrances from friends and family aboutMuriel’s later years also contains stories of her earlier life. This series ofmemories, eulogies and pictures of Muriel is a companion piece to the biography,Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist, published by Fernwoodin 1996. Joining these two books in my mind’s eye, I picture Muriel’s lifeas a tapestry where we can trace threads from the beginning to the end,showing us how this ordinary woman became so extraordinary and whatmade her so beloved and so inspiring to those of us who knew her. Forreaders not acquainted with the biography, the following is a summaryof her life story. Muriel Helena Ball was born on October 31, 1908, on a farm in theEastern Townships at Austin, Quebec, the third of five children. When shewas nine her family moved to the town of Magog, eleven miles down thelake. Muriel, a shy studious child, grew up loving nature and the rhythmof the seasons. Relatives and friends often gathered in her family’s homefor hymn sings, card games, good meals and political debates. Her feministroots went back to a mother who read Nellie McClung, who turned herchina cabinet into a bookcase to start up a community lending libraryand who helped earn the money for her children to go to university byrunning a tea room and renting rooms to summer boarders. Muriel credited the Student Christian Movement (scm) at McGill asthe most important part of her university education. She was active insmall study groups, in opposing anti-Semitism on campus and in helpingraise money for European student relief. At the scm she met JackDuckworth. They married the week of her graduation in 1929, and bothdid graduate studies for the next year at Union Theological Seminary(uts) in New York. In the vibrant atmosphere at uts, progressive facultyRemembering Muriel Duckworth11 . . . . members were readily accessible to students. It was a time when the “socialgospel” permeated theological studies, when the sudden market crashthrew the economic system into question, when psychiatric concepts werebeing introduced and when students were exposed to speakers from otherworld religions. There was even a beginning dialogue between Christiansand Marxists. Students engaged in field work, and Muriel’s eyes wereopened by her weekly sessions with teenaged immigrant girls at a communitychurch in Hell’s Kitchen on the Lower East Side. From this camea lifetime ability to instill confidence in young women. Returning to Montreal, Jack went to work for the ymca, and Murielbecame secretary to the scm until their first child, Martin, was born in1931. She was busy with the family for the next few years, with Eleanorborn in 1935 and John in 1938, but found time to involve herself with Jackin the League for Social Reconstruction — forerunner to the CanadianCommonwealth Federation (ccf) and later the New Democratic Party(ndp). Muriel attended the conference that led to the establishment of theccf. The Duckworth home was the site of meetings for two other organizations,the Fellowship for a Christian Social Order, a graduate versionof the scm, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist organizationbegun in Britain after World War I. Remembering the lessons of that war,Jack and Muriel actively resisted the advent of World War II. Jack was adeclared pacifist, and Muriel supported his stand over the objections offriends and family. Instead of engaging in volunteer activities supportingthe war effort, Muriel remained busy throughout wartime starting upchildren’s nursery schools, home and school associations and children’sart classes and working with the Canadian Girls in Training. The horrorof war touched home when her younger brother Norman, who hadjoined the Air Force, was killed returning from a raid over France in 1943. The family moved to Halifax in 1947, when Jack became the generalsecretary of the new family ymca. Muriel did volunteer work in communitymental health activities and human rights for African Nova Scotians. From 1948 to 1962, she joined the progressive staff of the Adult EducationDivision of the Nova Scotia Department of Education. She worked fulltime for the department until she resigned from her paid work in 1967to become the national president of the Voice of Women (vow). A Legac y of Love12 . . . . Muriel and Peggy Hope-Simpson had started a Halifax branch of vowin response to a call from Toronto women to form a women’s organizationto do something about the failure of the Paris Peace talks in 1960. Intheir first month they called a public meeting to successfully contest thedumping of nuclear waste off the coast of Yarmouth, N. S. The activitiesof vow occupied an increasing share of Muriel’s attention. As nationalpresident, she chaired the Women’s International Peace Conference inMontreal in 1967. During her term, the Voices, who opposed the warin Vietnam, captured public attention when they brought three SouthVietnamese women from the National Liberation Front to Canada. Murielaccompanied them across the country to packed public meetings in themajor cities and at border points between Canada and the United States. There they met with delegations of U. S. women working for peace. Murielrepresented vow at conferences in Paris in 1967, Moscow in 1968, MexicoCity in 1975 and Copenhagen in 1980. Muriel led a delegation of Voices in 1968 to meet the director generalof the Suffield Experimental Station to protest Canada’s involvement inchemical weapons testing. The women went to explore the agreementbetween Canada, Great Britain and the U. S. on chemical and biologicalwarfare research and its connection to U. S. chemical warfare in Vietnam. Muriel was equally at home in small discussion groups and in thefull plenary sessions of large meetings. In the early days of vow UrsulaFranklin remarked that Muriel’s attendance at meetings meant thatstandards were ensured. When contention arose she would talk with allparties in a dispute and attempt to come up with a proposal acceptableto everyone. On rare occasions she dissolved into tears. In 1976 Muriel was a founding member of the Canadian ResearchInstitute for the Advancement of Women (criaw), begun primarily byacademic women. Muriel became an enthusiastic supporter of the notionof community-based research by and for women. Because she saw criawas a bridge between academic researchers and community activists sheremained on the board of directors for five years and was elected presidentfor the years 1979 to 1980. Muriel gained spiritual strength from becoming associated with theQuakers (Friends) in Halifax in 1962. The simplicity of the Quaker apRememberingMuriel Duckworth13 . . . . proach, with their silent Meeting for Worship and their view of themselvesas searching for the truth, appealed to her. She could relate to a Quakertenet that there is “that of God in every person” and that each of us hasan “inner light” that guides us. Although Muriel and Jack attended theFriends’ Meetings regularly and took on responsibility at the Meetings,it was not until 1975, after Jack’s death, that she officially joined theReligious Society of Friends. For several years Muriel did not publiclyidentify herself as a Quaker in her work in the peace movement becauseshe did not want people to think that only Quakers were “for peace” orthat you had to be a Quaker “to be for peace. ” Nevertheless the influenceof the Quakers was strong in the Voice of Women as a number of its mostactive leaders were themselves Friends. In addition to her volunteer work in the peace movement, Muriel’spolitical involvement in the community expanded when she became oneof the founding members of the Movement for Citizens’ Voice and Action(move) in Halifax in 1971, and its chair in 1972. This organization beganas a citizens’ coalition publicly protesting the lack of promised publicparticipation in the Regional Municipal Plan for the cities of Halifax andDartmouth. During the next six years Muriel was seen as the cement thatheld together a coalition of broadly based community groups. She was astrong advocate for the interests of the economically marginalized. Theeducation Muriel received in move and the public profile she earned inthose years were instrumental in her running for the ndp in the provincialelection of 1974, as the first woman candidate in Halifax. While herworkload with move was still very heavy, three weeks before the electionshe agreed to run and, at age sixty-five, undertook the arduous activity ofdoor-to-door campaigning. Muriel received visible support from womenand from university students. She did not win but obtained close to 20percent of the vote in the riding, a previous Conservative stronghold. Muriel found that she had to work very hard to be taken seriously,even by the men in her own party. On the subjects of education, foreignpolicy and the status of women she was clearly a leader in shaping ndppolicy. She was a prime mover at the federal convention of 1981, wherea resolution was passed stating than an ndp government would not participatein the nato alliance. A Legac y of LoveThe 1980s were filled with Muriel’s participation in internationalmeetings for peace. As a pacifist feminist Muriel helped to make Canadianwomen think about the cost of the arms race and about war as the ultimateinstrument of violence against them. Returning from the unofficial parallelconference of the United Nations International Conference on Womenin June 1955 in Mexico City, attended by 8000 women, she reported: “Onthe whole I didn’t feel that the people from North America had the samesense of urgency about disarmament as the people did from the developingcountries, to whom armament means wars . .. They are just destroyed bywars. … Their progress gets set back by armament. …” At this same conferenceMuriel led an action of the Canadian women delegates in supportof an aboriginal woman, Mary Two-Axe Earley, who was threatened witheviction from the Kahnawake reserve because, according to Canadian law,she had lost her status as an Indian upon her marriage to a white man. The publicity they generated resulted in worldwide support for the causeof First Nations women in Canada. In 1982 Muriel represented criaw at the invitation of the Departmentof External Affairs on a Canadian women’s study tour, with visits to natoheadquarters in Paris and to the Canadian Forces Base in Lahr, Germany. The women were mainly taken to briefings about obscure non-militaryagencies of nato. Muriel used many occasions to counteract the propagandistnature of the tour and uncovered the fact that nato spent lessthan 1 percent of its budget on non-military activities. That same year Muriel and Ann Gertler presented a lengthy statementon behalf of vow to the House of Commons Standing Committeefor External Affairs and National Defence. Their evidence showed thatmilitarism deprives women of funds to meet daily human needs. Over 200 members of vow attended a giant rally at the UnitedNations Second Special Session on Disarmament on June 12, 1982, whena million people marched for peace from the U. N. buildings to CentralPark. Muriel and Betty Peterson led a delegation presenting a petition of125,000 signatures of Canadian women across Canada to Gerard Pelletier,Canadian ambassador to the U. N.After convalescing for almost a year from a near-fatal illness, Murielwent to Japan in August 1983, accompanied by Suellen Bradfield, to attend14 . . . . Remembering Muriel DuckworthHiroshima Day and the World Conference against Atomic and HydrogenBombs. She brought home many moving tales of the Hiroshima survivorsshe had met. In 1984 she returned to Moscow to take part in the nfb film,Speaking Our Peace. Muriel was the soul of the Women’s InternationalPeace Conference at Mount St. Vincent University, in Halifax, in June1985, where 350 women from every continent gathered to examine andadvocate women’s alternatives for negotiating peace. She had workedtirelessly for nearly two years to support this initiative. In August 1985 she joined a fact-finding Mission for Peace to CentralAmerica at the request of a coaliton sponsored by labour unions, cusoand Oxfam. As part of the delegation she visited five countries in twoweeks, interviewing over a hundred people. She returned home to organizemeetings to speak about the information the mission had gathered. Well into the 1990s, Muriel helped to plan and organize a great manypeace demonstrations, marches, silent vigils and petitions. Although shenever had to go to jail for her pacifist beliefs, she did land in a federal taxcourt in 1989, when she was eighty, for withholding about 9 percent ofher federal income tax over several years — the portion she figured thecountry used for war preparations. She argued unsuccessfully: “For twohundred years Canada has allowed young men not to be conscripted ifthey objected on conscientious grounds. … I feel that neither should mymoney be conscripted for this purpose. ”Anyone who worked alongside of Muriel experienced her energizingforce. Muriel was associated with a great many organizations and wasone of the founders of seventeen provincial and national groups. Hersupport to individual women was legendary, her leadership motivatingand her encouragement constant. Many institutions recognized Muriel’scontributions to adult education, community development, human rightsand women’s and peace studies. She was given a dozen doctorates fromuniversities across Canada, was a member of the Order of Canada andreceived the Person’s Award and the Pearson Peace Medal. It was typicalof Muriel that whenever she was honoured, she managed to turn theaward into an occasion for honouring others. When she received theOrder of Canada in 1983 she accepted it as a symbol of recognition forthe women’s peace movement.

Reviews

Marion Douglas Kerans, herself an activist, lives in Ottawa. She is the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood 1996). -Judith Meyrick for Our Times MagazineThe book offers glimpses of many of the highlights of her long and extraordinary peace and political activism. She was the national president of the Voice of Women (a peace organization), and she helped found seventeen provincial and national groups. She was awarded twelve honourary doctorates, the Order of Canada and the Pearson Peace Medal, among others. A Legacy of Love is a lovely tribute to Muriel Duckworth by family and friends from many walks of life. Some share small remembrances but all combine to create a picture of a woman who believed that the world could be a better place for all. -Sharon Hunt for Atlantic Books Today

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