OBITUARY

Peace Researcher 42 – November 2011

 PATRICIA MORRISON
October 29 1921 – August 30 2011

- Kate Dewes

 

Patricia Morrison was a member of the Anti-Bases Campaign for just the last couple of years of her very long and extraordinarily productive life. We were one of the myriad of peace and social justice groups that she wanted to support and we are grateful that she did. She was someone who was at every public meeting, lecture, course and seminar that was going, more often than not travelling by taxi to and from her inner city Council flat (tragically, she was never able to go back to it after the February 22nd earthquake). She kept up this punishing schedule despite old age and deteriorating health (she had the rather alarming habit of fainting during meetings and slumping to the floor because of a medical condition. The only time I ever visited her flat was when Becky and I took her home a few years ago after one such episode at a nearby book launch). She was an absolute stalwart of the Christchurch progressive movement for decades and one who always sought me out for a chat whenever we were at something together (I last saw her at a 2010 Christmas party). More than that, she was a donor for years to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account which provides my income. She truly lived the life well spent and I feel privileged to have known her. Murray Horton


Early in 2011 our Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) group met together to catch up and plan the upcoming annual Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lantern ceremony. The smiling faces that day masked the depths of devastation we have all experienced since the earthquakes started over a year ago. Some, including Patricia, lost their homes and we all knew people who had died. Dear Patricia, despite the trauma and the shift into a rest home, did not dwell on it. However this must have been an extremely tough and lonely final phase of her life as she struggled to adjust - especially finding it difficult to attend the myriad of meetings which she often walked to in her beloved inner city community. She died in Princess Margaret Hospital a few months before her 90th birthday.


WILPF was one of Patricia’s favourite groups in her later years, where she gained strength from other women on issues of peace, justice and human rights which were dear to her heart. In 2010 she was made a life member. Although I have known Pat for many years, I had no idea of the depth and breadth of her work until I read an interview she had done with Ruth Greenaway in January 2001. She was a diminutive, self-effacing, humble woman who achieved amazing things as a leader promoting issues for women and families all over the world.


Lifelong Peace Activist


She was a financial supporter of our Disarmament and Security Centre, the Peace Foundation, the Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa (CAFCA) and the Anti Bases Campaign (ABC) to name a few of the over 70 groups she supported. In 2002 when Christchurch celebrated the 20th anniversary as the first Nuclear Weapons-Free City and became the first Peace City, Patricia was one of the inaugural recipients of the Mayor’s Peace Awards. The citation recognised her leading role in the United Nations Association organising Model UN Assemblies for schools in Canterbury, the annual Lincoln Efford Memorial and John Grocott Peace Lectures. She was also awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for her work.


Patricia was the eldest child of six children. Her father was a lawyer in Dunedin and then Christchurch. She told Ruth that her passion for history, international peace and human rights began with the Principal of Somerfield Primary who taught her history from the age of six. They became good friends and he suggested competitions and essay topics for her to pursue. My garage peace archives contained the following inscription from one of the books given to the peace collection years ago. “New Zealand No More War Movement First Prize Senior Division Awarded to Patricia Morrison for the Ensom Peace Essay Competition”. It was signed by Norman Bell who was the Chair of the NMWM in 1933. Patricia was only 11 years old! This Prize is still being run annually at Canterbury University. “The subject of the essay is set in order to enable candidates to advocate a constructive policy for the promotion and preservation of international peace and goodwill”.


While studying History at Canterbury during World War Two, she became involved in international issues through the Student Christian Movement (SCM) where the students and lecturers discussed pacifism and war. She was the Women’s Vice President and corresponded regularly with the SCM overseas and the World movement in Geneva. She then became a member of the Students’ Association Executive working closely with students. Secretly she always wanted to do international work, admitting in later life that “I’ve gone from one thing to another and the opportunities have kept opening up”.


She became the secretary to the Committee of the International Students Service involved in bringing Jewish students who had fled to NZ from Germany or Austria to the University and helped integrate them into it. She became active in the Oxford University branch in Britain when she was studying history there on a three year scholarship in 1946. From this base she attended their international conferences and was elected to their international committee. In 1948 she went to work in their international office in Geneva responsible for nine field workers helping find work for people displaced during the war. Her secondary school French was sufficient for her to carry out a very responsible and demanding job in Geneva. Based here for two years, she attended conferences in Burma, France, Indonesia, Denmark and Sweden.


A True Internationalist


When she returned to New Zealand while working as the NZ SCM School Secretary she became very involved with the different churches which were members of the National Council of Churches where she was frequently asked to speak to women’s and youth groups. Later when she was working with the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Geneva she had many amazing experiences in countries all over the world. She told Ruth about how she helped support refugee families from the Tokelau Islands and other countries to settle in New Zealand; and her work with the Women’s International Ecumenical Liaison Group which included Orthodox Catholic and Protestant women.


She travelled alone to dangerous countries to meet with fledging YWCA groups including 12 in Africa: Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Madagascar, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and others. She hoped her father didn’t know what she was doing or she might have been told to give it up and come home. Our intrepid Pat went to Russia, the Pacific Islands, all of the Caribbean States, most of Europe, Canada and the States, and “spent a great deal of time always in going to India and Pakistan, Hong Kong and Thailand”. She developed close working relationships with Muslim and Hindu women in Africa and Asia. She always made a point of listening to the needs of the local women and enabling them to meet the needs of their communities.


She told Ruth: “In Tanzania, women were taught the tie dye process... they made clothing and... ended up having quite a big shop in which they sold garments. I got some beautiful dresses there and their person who was in charge - who designed and cut etc - became the head of a fashion firm in another country, through her experience in the YWCA. In Ghana one of the people helped set up a bakery and then she herself branched out into a big firm of her own. In Uganda the YWCA established the only training centre for kindergartens in the country. The YWCA also helped the villagers - they dug fish ponds and provided the fish and the stock so that people could make money from what they grew and they also had pigs and goats”. This would have been at the forefront of sustainable economic aid for women all over the world.


She was involved with a leading women’s organisation which was pushing the boundaries everywhere on a wide range of issues. One example was when the US branch of the YWCA 30 years ago protested against the possession of guns. Their vociferous opposition resulted in them losing their funding, and male colleagues resigning from their advisory boards. But they stuck to their principles, which she admired. She admitted that she would often “take the flak” when she supported the younger women in YWCA who were trying to do things differently - like training social workers from all different ethnicities and faiths.


She was an active member of the Workers’ Education Association (WEA) in Christchurch during the 1940s when she was at university. Daniela Bagozzi told the following anecdote at her funeral in September 2011. “In those days Karl Popper, the famous philosopher was lecturing at Canterbury. Because of timetable clashes, Pat couldn’t attend and when she heard that Popper was giving lectures at the WEA she went along, with a school friend (and they were two of only three women in a crowd of about 40 men). Dr Popper gave them a ride home each week and Patricia always remembered how once in the car he would ask them “and what did you think of the lecture?” which meant they had to pay special attention and be ready to discuss.”


A Very Active “Retirement”


In 1987 she joined a group called “Friday Foraging” which ran weekly coach trips into the country and all over Canterbury and it wasn’t long before Patricia was busy organising courses and finding speakers on all kinds of topics. She served as WEA’s President from 1992 to late 1996, and on various committees including the History and Programme Committees where she advocated for the more “thinking” courses - especially peace and international affairs. Daniela recalls that “even as increasing age and deafness made it harder for her to follow discussions she still made a contribution, she still knew what the important topics were and would make sure her views were heard. She was a good reminder to all of us that retirement doesn’t mean becoming bored or inactive, that superannuation is also for supporting good. She was never too old or frail not to go to a protest or a meeting, never too old of frail to cease being interested in all topics”.


In his Press obituary (“Lifelong work in pursuit of peace and justice”, 24/9/11), Mike Crean cited a letter to the Editor in May 2011 which reminded the rebuilders of Christchurch to consult “Evolution of a City” by JP Morrison which explains the problems Christchurch faces with a web of underground streams. This was Patricia’s MA thesis, published in 1948, and it was the first true history of Christchurch up to 1903 (the J stood for Jean. Patricia preferred to use her middle name. Ed.). I’m sure if Patricia had been able to master the computer and email in her later years, she would have been flooded with emails and hundreds of friends on Facebook. These would have been from people all over the world with whom she had lost touch over the years, but who loved her and valued her friendship. They would have included leaders from key organisations in the UN based in Geneva and New York, the World Council of Churches etc and former students, women and ordinary families she helped support in resettlement in safer homes here, or nurtured into new careers in their home countries.

 

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