Muriel Duckworth was born on a farm on the shores of Lake Memphremagog. She returned to the family cottage there most summers of her adulthood to swim, to visit with family and friends on the veranda and to renew her energy for the activism to which she devoted most of her life.
Muriel was educated at McGill University, where she joined the Student Christian Movement and met Jack Duckworth, a theology student already launched on a career with the YMCA. She married him on graduating in 1929, then joined him in studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Back to Montreal and Jack's new job with the YMCA, the couple continued their social-gospel involvement and joined the League for Social Reconstruction. Muriel also became a mother of three, Martin, Eleanor and John.
Relocating to Halifax with Jack's posting there as general secretary for the Halifax YMCA, Muriel became an adult educator and helped found the Movement for Citizens' Voice and Action (in Halifax). She also helped found the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Voice of Women for Peace. Muriel received the Persons Award, the Order of Canada, the Pearson Peace Medal and a dozen honorary degrees.
Muriel wasn't just honoured for what she did and accomplished, however, but for how she lived. She lived her vision of peace that formed the core of her activism. She modelled it in her ability to be fully present and engaged, speaking her truth simply and honestly. She modelled it in her capacity to relate to others no matter what the differences in age, language, ethnicity or creed. She modelled it in her ability to commune, dissolving the distance of difference.
A month before she died, Muriel fell and broke her leg within days of journeying to the summer cottage. A tag team of family and friends supported her in the small Magog, Que., hospital where she was sent after surgery. Each day, two nursing aides changed her linens, often jarring her injured leg as they turned her, and I marvelled at how bravely Muriel endured this. One morning, one of the aides was new. When the ordeal was over, Muriel reached out and took the young woman's hand in hers. She looked up into her face, smiled and said: "And what is your name?"
The Québécoise nursing aide answered shyly, a smile lighting up her face as she looked at Muriel, and perhaps squeezed her hands in response, completing an act of communion that was the hallmark of Muriel's peace-making grace.
Heather Menzies is Muriel's friend.
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