A Legacy of Love
Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Her Later Years, 1996-2009
Muriel Duckworth made a difference. She had strong family roots and her definition of family was all-encompassing – she opened her heart and her life to everyone she met. She believed strongly that love conquers all and 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, a pacifist whose heart was constantly bruised by the aggression that continues to plague our world.
In A Legacy of Love: Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Marion Douglas Kerans has collected stories of Duckworth’s last years from her family and friends. The biography she wrote of Duckworth was published in 1996 and she wanted add to it, to continue the story that began in Austin, Que., in 1908.
What makes Duckworth remarkable is that she practised what she preached. She was a voice of reason, a symbol of hope, nationally and internationally, and when she died in 2009 at the magnificent age of 101, expressions of love and caring poured in from around the world.
Kerans sent out a request for stories and they flooded in, from Duckworth’s children, grandchildren, friends and fellow activists. What emerges from these stories is a picture of the power of love and of a woman who cared deeply about people, about peace and about equality. She never stopped working, thinking and strategizing about how to change the world.
Selecting the stories was easy, said Kerans. She asked and they came.
“I didn’t have to choose,” she said. “I didn’t let anyone go.” She was able to use every story that arrived in time to meet the publisher’s deadline.
Through the stories in A Legacy of Love, a picture emerges of an extraordinary woman, one whose energy, compassion and friendship had no boundaries. She touched everyone she met. “She had such a gift of loving people herself and it was reciprocated,” said Kerans on the phone from her home in Ottawa. “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.”
Duckworth was a leader in the Voice of Women, a national peace organization. She helped establish the Halifax chapter of The Raging Grannies. She was a fearless peace activist, an educator, a “feminist, community development organizer, political organizer and pacifist.” In later years, in spite of her waning physical energy, she continued to attend gatherings and events, lectures and protests. “If people see me there, it will encourage them to keep going,” she had said.
Kerans’ earlier book about Duckworth, A Very Active Pacifist, took a long time to write. “My daughter likes to say I had six kids faster than I wrote that book,” she said. “Not being a professional writer, and being an activist, I was always distracted by other things. It was hard to sit down and just do it.”
Kerans grew up in Montreal. When her husband died, leaving her with six children under 13, she returned to school, graduating with a master’s degree in social work. When she remarried, she moved to Halifax, where she met Duckworth.
In 2004, Kerans lost her son, Patrick, to multiple sclerosis. “He had a great sense of humour,” she said, “and when he couldn’t continue working he turned to writing.” She sees many parallels between her son and Duckworth. They both “lived their lives to the fullest,” she said. “They were able to draw out the best in others.”
Kerans is currently working on a collection of family sketches for her grandchildren. “It’s important to know where you came from,” she said, “and my 83rd birthday is coming up. I’d better get on with it!”
Kerans is an activist, working on peace and social justice issues. Her earlier book, Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist, was published in 1996. She lives in Ottawa.
–Judith Meyrick, Halifax Herald, Nov. 21, 2010