Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Ramble - Standing in the Light (For Muriel)

Legendary peace activist Muriel Duckworth has told friends she is “going now,” accepting what appears to be the imminent end of a long life of striving for social change.The 100-year-old, whose advocacy earned her honorary degrees and the Order of Canada, had a serious fall recently at her cottage in Magog, Que. She is receiving palliative care and does not expect to recover.

“I'm going to leave you now. It's time for me to go. Everything is ready,” she told two visiting friends, the words relayed to Ms. Kipping by Ms. Duckworth's daughter. “Be happy with each other. You have each other. Goodbye, I'm going now.” That inner peace contrasts with the grief of those close to her. Some were too distraught to speak publicly. Others praised her for remaining true to her principles.

“Her life shows not only it can be done, but that it has been done,” said friend Ursula Franklin, 87, senior fellow at the University of Toronto's Massey College. “I would like her to be remembered as somebody who demonstrated that it's possible to change one's society, to be profoundly critical and still remain a respected member of that society.”

Ms. Duckworth, a practising Quaker and founding member of protest group The Raging Grannies, was born in Quebec and moved to Nova Scotia in 1947. She and her late husband, Jack, raised three children in the province while dedicating themselves to the cause of social justice. A founding member of the provincial branch of Voice of Women, Ms. Duckworth served as national president for four years. She helped establish the anti-poverty Canadian Council for International Co-operation, and was one of the first women in Nova Scotia to run for provincial office. She was always strongly opposed to war, a stand that went back more than half a century, and did not recognize popular distinctions between “good” and “bad” conflicts.

She was able to hold onto hope of a better future even as fighting continued around the world, Ms. Franklin said, who noted that social attitudes have slowly changed for the better. Citing the less authoritarian ways people relate in the family, the workplace and at school, Ms. Franklin said the challenge is to extend these new approaches to the international sphere. But that task will soon be left to the next generation.

“When any person passes, it's the end of an era,” said Bruce Kidd, a close Duckworth family friend and the dean of physical education and health at the University of Toronto. He went on to quote an Ethiopian saying he'd heard from a colleague, noting that the effects of some deaths are particularly profound. “When an elder dies, a great library and archive burns to the ground.”

This was largely reprinted from an article by Oliver Moore in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail, and it says, better than I ever could, what an incandescent spirit and a courageous warrior this gentle woman has always been - we have been blessed in knowing her and having her light shining in our lives.


Still thinking said...

“I would like her to be remembered as somebody who demonstrated that it's possible to change one's society, to be profoundly critical and still remain a respected member of that society.”

That would be a real achievement. I have not heard of this woman but her story and her calm readiness to go moved me.

People such as Muriel show us how to live AND how to die. A remarkable life indeed.

Sally said...

An inspiring story... thank you for sharing it. She sounds like someone who should be honored at Americans Who Tell the Truth, a place of great inspiration. Perhaps someone should start a Canadian equivalent.

Barbara Anne said...

Thank you for shining your light on Muriel Duckworth for us to read.

May she go in peace and with the deep satisfaction of having lived well. May her hopes, dreams, and steadfast adherence to her principles live on in us.

kerrdelune said...

Muriel passed away quietly early on Saturday morning with her family by her side, and the world is a poorer place for her passing. Now we must carry on in her place, but, as she liked to say "only as we ourselves can do it".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this story and especially the photo. I just had a big birthday and Duckworth will be an inspiration, thanks to you, in coming decades for me. I reposted it to FB and Twitter.