A Matter of Pilgrimage
Summer 1997 No 1 – 17/09/1997
Document Code: WJ01
Description: Chris Lawson is no stranger to anyone who has been to Woodbrooke in the last three decades. He started work at Woodbrooke in 1969 and in his time here occupied the roles of FSC Tutor and Extra Mural Services Organiser (more recently called Short Courses Tutor) and from 1990 until his early retirement in 1996, Senior Tutor.
Chris sat on numerous Woodbrooke committees and was active in the life of the Selly Oak Colleges. Within the Federation, his service included the Awards Committee, Senatus, the Worship Committee, the Advisory Committee for the Centre for Islam and Christian Muslim Relations, and as Vice President from 1985-87. His outstanding commitment to the Federation has recently been recognised by the invitation to become an Honorary Fellow of the Federation.
At its meeting last Autumn, Woodbrooke Council minuted on the subject of his leaving the staff here: Chris’ knowledge and experience of Friends both in this country and across the world will be a great loss to Woodbrooke, it is almost as if an encyclopedia is being removed from us. His ability to connect with people and issues both speedily and enthusiastically is a gift he gave generously both to Woodbrooke and the Meetings and Friends he visited on its behalf. His persistently cheerful outlook and faith in the possibility of getting things done is infectious, and his total commitment to Woodbrooke never faltered over 27 years of service.
Chris has certainly been an influential figure in my Quaker life. I first came to know him well as we worked together on the Bradford Summer Gathering for the two years leading up to the event in August 1991, Chris as co-Clerk, myself as Administrator. Again it was Chris I was working with, when I was appointed as Resources for Learning Adviser, working jointly for Woodbrooke under Chris’ guidance, and for Quaker Home Service. In 1996 I came to Woodbrooke to be part of the Tutorial team led by Chris. For me, that continued colleagueship has been a privilege and a mentorship. Chris has shown me so much in those few years and infused even the most difficult situations with such a great sense of possibility, of hope, and of care and caring. Chris has a magical combination of skills and gifts which, as the Council minute records, is a huge loss for Woodbrooke and for Woodbrookers. It is a combination we will not be able to replicate but it is an ideal we can strive towards.
I am particularly happy then that this issue of the Journal has been written by Chris. It is an uncut version of a shorter article which appeared in Issue No.9. of The Journal of Woodbrooke College (Summer 1996). Some of the work was done whilst Chris and Christina Lawson were on sabbatical in India in 1995.
They wrote in the report on their journey: We sought to discover the continuing legacy of Gandhi. Statues and pictures of him were very common, particularly in villages. Responses varied from ‘forgotten’ and ‘one more god in the village street’ to ‘Father of the Nation’ (a generally accepted accolade) and ‘one whose principles are still valid’. This would lead to comments on the differences in the situation today. . . For some Gandhi still provides a personal inspiration, not least for his concern for improving the conditions of the poor. Our fullest discussion of the relevance of Gandhi was with the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Krishna Kant. His alertness to contemporary problems was matched by a non-dogmatic Gandhian philosophy. Several times he challenged us as to what Quakers were doing today about Gandhi’s approaches on such global issues as the increasing size and ungovernability of cities.
It was a talk to a Rotary Club in Vijayawade (at the invitation of Solomon Raj, a former William Paton Fellow in the Selly Oak Colleges) which prompted the research into Gandhi’s visit to Woodbrooke in 1931 which forms the basis of his article. It is a fascinating glimpse of 40 hours in the life of Woodbrooke as well as an inspiring account of part of Gandhi’s visit to England that year.
Christina Lawson also retired in the autumn of 1996 after 20 years as Woodbrooke Librarian. Her responsibilities included the care of the strong room which contains some letters from Gandhi to Jack Hoyland. From time to time she enjoyed showing these, with other records of the links of Woodbrooke with Gandhi, to groups in the college or visitors.
Chris - thanks for this, and thanks for all else you and Christina have given us.
Ben Pink Dandelion