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The Shining Services of Curtis Kelsey

Curtis Kelsey (1894 - 1970). (Photo: courtesy of Carol Rutstein)

Curtis Kelsey (1894 - 1970). (Photo: courtesy of Carol Rutstein)

Curtis Kelsey was an American Baha’i who served in Haifa during the final weeks of Abdu’l-Baha’s lifetime and who installed the lighting equipment that first illumined the Shrines of Baha’u’llah and the Bab.

Curtis was born in 1894 in Salt Lake City. He was a simple, happy-go-lucky, pure-hearted and easy-to-laugh fellow who only had a grade 8 education. Like many others, Curtis became a Baha’i because of a profoundly spiritual experience. His mother, Valeria, was a Baha’i and she tried to share the teachings with her family but they weren’t interested. Confined to his bed by typhoid fever and its accompanying severe headache, Curtis was cured when he heard orchestral music from an unseen source. Curtis called for his mother and asked her what he had just experienced. She turned to the few Writings in her possession. Curtis couldn’t rest until his experience was explained – he even left his work in order to “camp out on the doorstep” of every Baha’i and study the Writings. While an answer was not immediately found, his examination led him to the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha later explained that he had heard the music of the celestial kingdom and that it had awakened him spiritually.  Continue reading

Leonora Armstrong: Spiritual Mother of South America

Leonora Holsapple Armstrong (June 23, 1895 – October 17, 1980) on board the S. S. Vasari bound for Brazil in 1921. (Photo: courtesy of Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young)

Leonora Holsapple Armstrong (June 23, 1895 – October 17, 1980) on board the S. S. Vasari bound for Brazil in 1921. (Photo: courtesy of Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young)

“Leonora, what are you waiting for? Go!” Those were the words of May Maxwell to Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. Leonora wanted to go pioneering to South America but her resolve weakened in the face of her friends’ and family’s concerns.

Leonora, like Dorothy Baker, learned of the Faith from her grandmother and she attended the 1919 Baha’i Convention in New York City when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled. She wrote to Abdu’l-Baha, expressing her wish to pioneer and be of service. In His reply, He “expressed the hope that she might become a ‘spiritual physician,’ and this hope of His became her highest aspiration.” Martha Root encouraged her to go to Argentina and she began studying Spanish but a contact in Brazil interested in the Faith made her change her plans.  Continue reading

Laura & Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney: Esteemed Collaborators

Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974) and Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (12 April, 1863 - 20 December, 1928). These portraits of Laura and Hippolyte were done by Laura's mother, Alice, and the images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974) and Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (12 April, 1863 - 20 December, 1928). These portraits of Laura and Hippolyte were done by Laura's mother, Alice, and the images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In the year 1900, Laura Clifford Barney and Hippolyte Dreyfus met on the threshold of the Paris home of May Ellis Bolles. Laura was on her way to the visit the Canadian Baha’i in order to find out more about the Faith – which she accepted immediately, an unquenchable fire having been sparked in her heart. Hippolyte was departing May’s company. In the months that followed, Hippolyte became the first French Baha’i and in the years that followed he and Laura would both render priceless and invaluable services to the Cause. In honour of Laura’s passing which occurred 42 years ago on August 18th, I’d like to share some facts I’ve learned about them.

Laura was born on November 30th, 1879 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a wealthy family of artists and industrialists. She and her sister Natalie lived in luxury and privilege but owing to their parents’ strained marriage, they spent their childhood in both Paris and the United States. She studied the dramatic arts and sculpture, loved the theater and wrote 25 short stories and at least two plays. Laura was keenly intelligent, serious, inquisitive and insightful – qualities for which we are all grateful.

Between 1904 and 1906, Laura travelled to Akka multiple times. She was unmarried and in her twenties and the Master was still a prisoner of the Turkish government. Dr. Youness Afroukteh (whose wonderful recollections Memories of Nine Years in Akka is a delight to read) recorded these words:  Continue reading

Thomas Breakwell: Mysterious Luminary

Mr. Thomas Breakwell (31 May, 1872 - 13 June, 1902)

Mr. Thomas Breakwell (31 May, 1872 - 13 June, 1902)

I didn’t know who Thomas Breakwell was until recently, but once I heard his mysterious and heartbreaking story he became impossible to forget. He was born on May 31st, 1872 in Woking, England, became a Baha’i when he was 29 and passed away of tuberculosis when he was only 30. And yet, Abdu’l-Baha described him as “a lamp amid the angels of high Heaven”.

Thomas’ family immigrated to the United States and when he grew up he held a serious position in a Southern cotton mill that gave him a considerable income and so he spent his summer holidays in Europe. He was “of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm” and he was open minded and attracted to different religious ideas and philosophies. This thirst for knowledge of all things spiritual perked the ears of Mrs. Milner, whom he met on a steamer to France in the summer of 1901. Mrs. Milner had no interest in matters of the soul, but she was friends with May Bolles (who later became May Maxwell) who had found a truth that had given meaning to her life. Continue reading

Purity of Heart, Determination and Devotion: A Tribute to Mulla Husayn

On the evening of May 22, Baha’is throughout the world commemorate the Declaration of the Bab, which took place in the room pictured above in the Persian city of Shiraz in 1844 when the Bab met with and revealed His station to Mulla Husayn. The Bab announced there that His mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of Him Whom God shall make manifest, namely, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The observance takes place about two hours after sunset. To mark the Holy Day, Baha’is abstain from work on 23 May. The House of the Bab, where the Declaration occurred, was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution that swept across the Baha’is in Iran following the Islamic revolution. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

On the evening of May 22, Baha’is throughout the world commemorate the Declaration of the Bab, which took place in the room pictured above in the Persian city of Shiraz in 1844 when the Bab met with and revealed His station to Mulla Husayn. The Bab announced there that His mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of Him Whom God shall make manifest, namely, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The observance takes place about two hours after sunset. To mark the Holy Day, Baha’is abstain from work on 23 May. The House of the Bab, where the Declaration occurred, was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution that swept across the Baha’is in Iran following the Islamic revolution. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

In honour of the Declaration of the Bab, I have been thinking of that immortal hero who was the first to receive and embrace the truth of the Bab’s revelation: the young, pure-hearted, determined and devoted Mulla Husayn. We are indebted to Mulla Husayn because he left us with an account of that pivotal evening, unlike the Festival of Ridvan for which no historical records of the exact words or manner of Baha’u’llah’s declaration exists. In Release the Sun, William Sears tells us:

Never before in the history of religion have the exact words of such an unforgettable meeting been preserved by an eye-witness. Mulla Husayn, however, has left in everlasting language a memory of the first announcement by Ali Muhammad, the Bab. He could never forget the inner peace and serenity which he had felt in the life-creating presence of the Bab. He spoke often to his companions of that wondrous night.

What happened on that fateful evening and its impact on the world are sublime — attempting to comprehend it is like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Reflecting on Mulla Husayn’s story, however, helps me to get a better idea of the spiritual import of the Bab’s declaration. In thinking about Mulla Husayn, I am struck by 3 outstanding qualities that he demonstrated in the moments leading to and immediately following the birth of the Bab’s revelation: his purity of heart, his determination in pursuing his quest, and his devotion and faithfulness to the Bab, the object of his heart’s desire.  Continue reading

The Poems of Ruhiyyih Khanum after the Passing of Shoghi Effendi

poems of the passing 437x693

In 1995 Ruhiyyih Khanum published poems she had written after the death in 1957 of her husband, Shoghi Effendi, who had been the head of the Baha’i Faith for 36 years.

On the dust jacket of her book, Poems of the Passing, she explains what she wanted to achieve by finally making the verses public.

It is the author’s ardent hope that in sharing them with others they may echo the grief of separation in this world from our loved ones, and the confident hope of reunion with them in an eternal realm of spiritual progress and mercy.

Anybody expecting an easy journey with gentle poems of love and light and describing a calm acceptance of death is in for a big surprise. Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, who passed away 15 years ago, was unflinching in her realistic approach to life, and she applied the same approach to these poems.

In emotionally wrenching and spiritually challenging verses, she uses her sublime literary skills to lay bare an incandescent agony caused by the loss of her beloved.

So deep, so harrowing is the raw pain she describes – at one point writing of the “unspeakable poison of grief” — many people may find it difficult to keep on reading despite the great artistic beauty of the poetry. Tears are likely. Continue reading

Herald of the Covenant: A Tribute to William Henry (Harry) Randall

William Henry (Harry) Randall (19 April, 1863 - 11 Feb,1929)

William Henry (Harry) Randall (19 April, 1863 - 11 Feb,1929)

Immediately after my plane touched down in Boston, my host whisked me away in her car with a promise that I would love our destination.

We did not head towards the recognised highlights of the city such as the historic Boston Common or Harvard University or the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

We drove instead to the historic suburb of Medford and arrived at a cemetery where, amidst the golden autumn leaves, was the simple grey slate headstone of William Henry (Harry) Randall (1863-1929).

To the outer world Harry Randall was a multi-millionaire Boston businessman who later lost his fortune.

To the Baha’i community Harry Randall is a true hero of the Faith, one loved by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. Continue reading

25th Anniversary of the passing of Hand of the Cause of God Collis Featherstone

Collis Featherstone (5th May, 1913 - 29th September, 1990)

Collis Featherstone (5th May, 1913 - 29th September, 1990)

The telephone rang. It was the Saturday morning of the long October Labor Day weekend in Australia. It was my mother ringing from Kathmandu, Nepal where she and my father, Collis Featherstone, were visiting the Baha’is before flying to Pakistan to attend a Youth Conference. I immediately suspected something was wrong. My father had just passed away following a heart attack. I was stunned, shocked, horrified, deeply deeply saddened and rocked to my very soul. How did this happen, how were we to go to Nepal for the funeral and how were we to arrange ticketing quickly with the Monday being a holiday and no travel agent open (no computer ticketing in those days)? Who was going to look after our four children?

The only answer was prayer. Answers came, and with the help of dear friends, my husband Ho-San and I flew out of Sydney to Kathmandu on Tuesday morning 2nd October, together with Judy Hassall as the representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia. The funeral was held on Friday 5th October, and my father was laid to rest in the Baha’i Cemetery in Kathmandu. Continue reading

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali – The Delight of Hearts

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali is regarded as one of Baha’u’llah’s most outstanding disciples yet very few people know of his servitude towards the Baha’i Faith. A staunch Baha’i, Haydar Ali went above and beyond to defend the Covenant of Baha’u’llah and later championed the Faith during Abdu’l-Baha’s Ministry, protecting it from the onslaught of Covenant breakers.

But it was Haji Mirza Haydar Ali’s distinct sense of humour and wit, which I believe was his distinguishing characteristic. It is no wonder that he was given the title ‘The Delight of Hearts’, for delighting hearts was indeed his forte. The following story is just one example of his humorous persona:

“One day we were outside the city of Isfahan in a very pleasant place where there was a mosque and a stream and a few trees. We had taken provisions to spend the night. We went to the mosque, where we planned to stay. A few of the inhabitants were curious, so they entered the mosque and someone asked me where I was from. I had a slight Isfahani accent, but I said that I was from Shiraz.

“Why are you lying?” the man replied. “It is obvious that you are from Isfahan. Seventy thousand angels will curse a liar.” Continue reading

The Wife of the Bab Khadijih Bagum – A Tribute to Suffering

Khadijeh Bagum

…calamities have always been and will continue to be the lot of God’s chosen ones. Therefore, blessed is the one who is satisfied with and thankful for all that hath visited him. For nothing from God touches a person except what is best for him of all that hath been created between the heavens and the earth. Since people are unaware of this mystery and its secrets, they are saddened when calamity strikes. God willing, thou wilt be always seated upon the seat of assurance and nourished with the fruits of understanding. Verily, He is the best of all providers and protectors.

As we contemplate and celebrate the Declaration of the Bab, I hope we can take a few moments to reflect how this mighty day, 171 years ago, not only altered the course of mankind’s history, but also simultaneously changed the life of one young, innocent bride forever.

The young bride was Khadijih Bagum, dearly beloved and cherished wife of The Bab, who paid the high price of enforced separation from Her Husband after a brief two years of marriage and endured forty years of suffering. Continue reading