A Legacy of Love
Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Her Later Years, 1996-2009
REVIEW FOR OUR TIMES’ 2011 ANNUAL WOMEN’S ISSUE
A WOMAN WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
A LEGACY OF LOVE: REMEMBERING MURIEL DUCKWORTH Edited by Marion Douglas Kerans Roseway Publishing/Fernwood Publishing Halifax, 2010 ISBN: 978-1-55266-381-3 111 pages, $14.95
Review by Judith Meyrick
There are times when we meet, however briefly, someone who touches our lives and whose presence lingers far beyond our everyday interactions. Muriel Duckworth was such a person. Intellectually curious, politically astute, warm, generous and inclusive, she was always open to new ideas and situations. Up until her death in 2009, she never stopped campaigning: for peace, for social justice, for the environment.
Muriel was a Quaker and a pacifist and her work, regardless of location or content, reflected her belief that the way to peace is simple and uncomplicated. “War is Stupid! Only love can save the world” was the motto she lived by. She practised what she preached, forging loving friendships and lasting relationships with her friends and colleagues alike. No one who met her was unaffected by her commitment and her joy.
Although she was known and respected around the world, at home in Canada she was just Muriel, “a very ordinary person who worked, raised a family and participated in her community,” writes Mariel Angus in A Legacy of Love: Remembering Muriel Duckworth. “But it was her deep concern for social injustice, coupled with her ability to create deep and lasting relationships with people from many different walks of life, that made her extraordinary.”
Angus is one of more than 30 people who responded to editor Marion Kerans’ call, after Muriel’s death, for personal stories and memories, and the result is this small but poignant book about a woman to be remembered.
This is the second book Kerans has had published about Muriel Duckworth, the first being Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist, which chronicles the activist’s life in a formal, historical sense up to 1996. With A Legacy of Love, Kerans wanted to capture the final years, and the stories and testimonials came flooding in - from her children, grandchildren, friends and fellow activists alike. Indeed, A Legacy of Love is a collection of stories from those who loved Muriel. They are personal and often intimate memories, portraying a woman who cared deeply about people, peace and equality, and whose energy, compassion and friendship had no boundaries.
Selecting the stories was easy, says Kerans. “I didn’t have to choose,” she said. “I didn’t let anyone go.” She was able to use everything that arrived on time to meet the publisher’s deadline. “She had such a gift of loving people herself and it was reciprocated,” said Kerans. “Everyone wanted to claim her as their best friend. And she was everyone’s best friend. Muriel really brought out the best in all of us.”
Muriel Duckworth was, among many other things, a founding member of the Nova Scotia Voice of Women; a founding member of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW); and, in her later years, a member of the Raging Grannies, groups of activist women across the country who sing for peace and justice while wearing spectacularly gaudy hats. A steadfast fighter for women’s rights and equality, in 1974 she became the first woman in Halifax to run for a seat in the Nova Scotia legislature.
Muriel’s activism took her along different paths. She was active in the campaign to stop uranium mining in Nova Scotia for many years, and, in 2009, the new NDP government in Nova Scotia passed a law banning uranium mining to honour Muriel, making Nova Scotia the first jurisdiction in the world to make uranium mining illegal.
Her awards are many and include the 1981 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case; the Pearson Medal of Peace in 1981; and the Order of Canada in 1983. She received 10 honorary doctorates, and the Order of Nova Scotia posthumously.
She was an organizer extraordinaire. In A Legacy of Love, Muriel’s daughter Eleanor Duckworth tells the story of waiting with her mother at the emergency room in Magog, Quebec, near their summer cottage. They came prepared. They read books, talked and ate their picnic lunch. When their wait was nearly done it occurred to Muriel that this was a prime organizing opportunity. She was preparing to facilitate a discussion in the waiting room “about the availability of doctors and what might be done about it” when her name was called.
Muriel Duckworth was a voice of reason and a symbol of hope. At a time when any reasonable person should be able to put up her feet and let the world know it is perhaps time to consider retiring, Muriel was still out there. In spite of her waning physical energy, she continued to attend gatherings and events, lectures and protests. When she died at the magnificent age of 101, expressions of love and caring poured in from around the world. “She was a living example of what we all should aspire to be,” writes Errol Sharpe, co-publisher of Fernwood Publishing.
Born Muriel Helena Ball on a farm in Austin, Quebec, on October 31, 1908, Muriel was the third of five children, and grew up in a close and loving family. Her roots were strong, and she carried these roots into her adult life, broadening the definition of family as she opened her heart and her life to everyone she met. In the words of her niece, Jean Cooper, she was “a gatherer of people, giving us the gift of her memory and time. She never lost her appetite for discovery or growth.”
One hundred years later, in 2008, there was a celebration in Halifax - a good, down-home birthday party with cake, friends and laughter. Not quite the traditional Maritime kitchen party though. The Rebecca Cohn auditorium was needed to accommodate the more than 1,000 people who gathered to honour this remarkable woman.
Muriel Duckworth was a person who made a difference. A woman who made a difference. A strong sense of social justice and her belief in people directed her life. She believed that love conquers all; that we must love with all our being; and that we must never lose hope. She was a passionate activist, speaking out against injustice and inequality, and a pacifist whose heart was constantly bruised by the aggression that continues to plague our world. The struggles are far from over, and she has left a legacy of love to guide us. Judith Meyrick is a Halifax-based freelance writer, book reviewer and children’s author. Her latest book is Gracie, the Public Gardens Duck (Nimbus Publishing 2007).
Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist was published by Fernwood Publishing in 1996 (ISBN 1-8956686-68-7).