Friday, 26 April 2013

My tribute to the late Dr Margaret White, former SPUC vice-president

St Mark's church, Englefield
This afternoon I have had the privilege of paying tribute, at the invitation of her family, to the late Dr Margaret White. She died on 17th April and was for many years vice-president of SPUC. She had reached the marvellous age of 93 – complaining to her doctor a week before she died that she could only get through a quarter of The Times crossword (due to drugs she was receiving). This is what I said at the Thanksgiving for her life at St Mark's church, Englefield:
In 1974, as an inexperienced south-east London lad from West Norwood, in my early twenties, I helped to start a branch of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Our local branch invited Dr White, then a leading member of the Society, to speak about abortion at a public meeting in Upper Norwood. For me she was the epitome of worldly glamour, smoking her cigarettes with an elegant cigarette holder, and opening her talk as follows:
"My grandmother was a bareback rider in a circus. She galloped round the ring one way and picked up a handkerchief with her teeth. She galloped round the other way and picked up her teeth in a handkerchief."
Referring with good-humoured mockery to the false statistics being put out by our pro-abortion opponents, Margaret said things like:
“I spit on them – and where I spit no grass grows.”
I was captivated and bewildered by this great lady.

Her involvement in the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, founded in January 1967, goes back to the very early days of the Society. The joint-founder of SPUC, Elspeth Rhys-Williams, now Elspeth Chowdharay-Best, and present here this afternoon, personally proposed her as member of the Executive Committee – and she went on to become vice-president of the Society and to travel the world promoting the pro-life cause. Her contribution to the pro-life movement was vast.. I will pick out just a few highlights.

I received recently the following email from Jón Valur Jensson:
“Life goes on, dear colleagues and combatants for the right to life of the unborn. Here am I, an Icelandic pro-lifer who got his initial enthusiastic awakening from Dr Margaret White.”
And poignantly a few months ago I received the following message from Peggy Hartshorn, the president of Heartbeat International, the US-based pregnancy-care organization with over 2000 counselling centres in America:
“I hope all is going well with SPUC. If you can, would you also email me the contact information for Margaret White (you said she was in a nursing home)? As I mentioned to you when we met, she is one of the founders of Heartbeat International and came over several times to speak to our conference while she was still able to travel. I would love to write her!”
Her book about abortion Two Million Silent Killings, published in 1986, one of her many publications, received the following commendation from Bishop Maurice Wood, the bishop of Norwich:
“This compassionate and hard-hitting books is the most robust and loving defence of the unborn child which I have read. It combines Christian orthodoxy, social caring, and medical knowledge will be hard to refute by any theologian, sociologist or doctor who may resist its bold pro-life stance”.
Bishop Wood was chairman of the Order of Christian Unity, also an organization in which Margaret was a leading light. Joanna Bogle, the chairman of the Order Christian Unity, and also here today, tells me that Margaret White joined the Order of Christian Unity in the early 1970s, when it had been reorganised and taken over by Lady Lothian.
“Margaret worked with enthusiasm on Christian projects and produced some excellent materials: one of the best was "Real Questions - real answers", a booklet for schools based on the real questions that teenagers asked her about sex and relationships. Through the Order of Christian Unity and other groups, she became a regular speaker in schools, and the young people would write questions on any topic they wanted, and put them anonymously in a box and she would answer them. Over the years she did much good work this way, speaking to young people with honesty, kindness and real wisdom.”
Joanna reminded me:
“She could be amusing and forthright: I remember when it was suggested, by some well-meaning people, that we might ask that the Government appoint a Minister for the Family ‘Oh no!’ she said ‘It would certainly turn out to be a Minister against the family!’ She knew only too well how government bureaucracy worked.”
Humour, including earthy humour, was as natural to Margaret in her campaigning work as breathing is to the rest of us. Whether she was talking about abortion, or inappropriate sex education, or the effects of contraception or hormonal replacement therapy on women’s health, she would spice up her talks on these subjects and make people laugh. Although she was a distinguished doctor, who debated as an expert speaker on various topics at both the Oxford and Cambridge Union, a member of the General Medical Council, a vice-president of the Mothers’ Union, her sense of fun, rollicking good humour, and compassion for the most vulnerable were always the most obvious things about her. She had zero sense of self-importance.

In her latter years, Margaret’s good-humoured mockery was still very much in play in a letter she had published in The Times on euthanasia. The trouble was, not everyone understood the intended irony in her letter, published by The Times in August 2009, which read:
"Sir, I am over 90. My husband and I worked full-time in medical practice, my husband until 70, and I till 66. My husband has died and the pension I receive for myself and as my husband's widow does not cover the cost of my nursing home.

During our lives we saved for our children but the income from our savings, with the pensions I receive, are not enough to make up the cost, so I am forced to draw on my capital.

I am happy here in the nursing home with no wish to die, but were voluntary euthanasia to be made legal I would feel it my absolute duty to ask for it as I now have 19 descendants who need my legacy.

I am sure I am not alone in this resolution.

Dr Margaret White
Margaret’s true legacy is far more important than money. As Joanna Bogle rightly said: Margaret helped many young people – and I would add many older people too – to have a vision for life. A vision which wisely teaches people to understand that her beloved medical profession was not infallible; a vision which embraced poor women in Puerto Rica used as guinea-pigs in contraceptive trials by the manufacturers of the pill – an alarming number of whom had died of unspecified heart attacks. And a vision which embraced the most innocent, most vulnerable members of humanity and of her own family whom she adored. I conclude with an extract of the SPUC executive minutes on 6th May 1989:
“Phyllis Bowman [my predecessor as national director of SPUC] reported that on her retirement from the Bench Margaret White had asked her fellow JPs to make a gift to a fund she was establishing under the umbrella of the SPUC Educational Research Trust. She had herself given £1,000 to this. The purpose of the Anna Fund was to help parents of Downs children to get the kind of remedial help that at present was only available through Professor Lejeune. The name came from her granddaughter, Anna, who had been born with Downs Syndrome and who had had to be flow to Paris before any remedial help could be found. The committee congratulated and thanked Margaret and her daughter for this excellent and noble idea.”
Thank you Margaret. God rest you!
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