Obituary of Cecil Evans, Quaker and co-founder of The Gandhi Foundation. Our thanks go to Douglas Butterfield and Jordans Quaker Meeting for permission to reproduce this remembrance of Cecil’s life.
Cecil Evans was born in 1925 in Liverpool of Welsh parentage. He was not born a Quaker. He wanted to be English and disengage from his Welsh roots so he and his brother joined the Congregational Church which was nearer their home and more progressive than the Welsh Chapels with younger ministers.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 Cecil was a pupil at the Liverpool Institute High School, which was evacuated to Bangor. He went back to Liverpool during the “phoney war” but was evacuated again when the Liverpool Docks were bombed. Cecil took School Certificate in 1941 and Higher in 1943; leaving school in April 1944. His was a classical education. His classics master wrote “He has worked with vigour and determination. I am sure that his classical training will serve him well, and that his personal qualities and intellectual ability will carry him far in whatever field he eventually enters.” Cecil tried unsuccessfully to get a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
So Cecil registered for military service and joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on a scheme that was 50% military service and 50% university – with the government giving maintenance grants to ex-service men to go on to university after the war. He volunteered to serve on minesweepers in the Channel. This experience of wartime naval service shaped his thinking about war. In later life he recalled his naval service with some pride in having cleared the coast of mines, looking back with some satisfaction when in the 1960’s and 1970’s his Quaker service was closely involved with disarmament efforts.
Cecil went to Oxford University to read PPE after the war, where he met Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, who interpreted the West and the East to each other, and wrote Recovery of Faith: the way to a religion of the Spirit, later becoming the second President of India (1962-1967). Cecil also attended a series of lectures in All Souls College stimulated by an American student Richard Hillman. These experiences shaped Cecil’s thinking about religion.
Cecil met a Friend at a lecture he attended – a Mr Sutton who was a professor at St Edmund Hall – who told Cecil about the Religious Society of Friends. Cecil did some research on Quakers using Whittaker’s Almanac. He received a brief personal letter in response to his enquiry from Edgar Dunstan, the predecessor of George Gorman, secretary to Quaker Home Service, giving him contact details for Wallasey and Birkenhead Friends Meetings. He attended Birkenhead Meeting from 1949 and was accepted into membership in 1953.
In 1949 Cecil left Oxford and got a temporary job teaching Latin in a Quaker School at Wigton in the Lake District, moving on to teach at Wycliffe College in Gloucestershire. He qualified as a teacher at Liverpool University.
12 years in North America; work in the Quaker United Nations Office, New York
Cecil emigrated to Canada in 1952, and spent 12 years in North America. After a period as a university lecturer in philosophy in Manitoba, he become General Secretary of the Canadian Friends Service Committee in Toronto from 1956 to 1960, and attended Toronto Meeting. He was deputed to attend the UN General Assembly to represent Canadian Friends for a month in 1958.
Cecil then spent 3 years from 1960 in New York as a staff member, and latterly the Director, of the Quaker United Nations Office. Cecil wrote on the issues that the Quaker office was working on; disarmament and world order, conciliation in East-West relations, early cessation of nuclear testing, development of regional peace forces, concerns about the situation in Cuba, the “China Question”, Algeria, Israeli-Arab questions, abolition of capital punishment, and the abolition of slavery worldwide.
Cecil wrote about the formal and informal interactions with delegates that staff of the Quaker UN Office enjoyed, and about holding Quaker House functions on such topics as the role of small nations in disarmaments, the work of the UN Housing Commission, China’s relationship to the UN, and developments in Latin America. All meetings were off-the-record and conducted in an informal atmosphere, where guests generally felt free to participate and found the experience relaxing and refreshing. Many delegates, as well as members of the UN Secretariat, were often glad to explore aspects of problems on which they were working with a group like Friends, a testimony to the confidence established by Friends over the years, especially through relief and educational work. The Quaker UN programme won the respect of Hugh Foot, then the British Ambassador to the UN, later to become Lord Caradon.
Cecil later described this as the high point of his working life, and it left him with the life-long conviction that Christians and the Church should be involved in the political process, not necessarily as politicians, but concerned with political issues; how people are treated, how they are rewarded, how they are housed and educated, as well as with the wider sphere of international relations, for peace and the conditions which make for peace.
Return to England; work for Quakers in London (Britain) Yearly Meeting
In 1964 Cecil returned to England, and worked in London jointly for the East-West Relations Committee and the American Friends Service Committee, with special reference to western relations with China.
Cecil then returned to teaching, obtaining a teaching post at Leighton Park, the Quaker School in Reading, where his friend Richard Coleman was head of Divinity & Classics. He taught the History and Principles of Quakerism for four years. He completed a Master’s degree in International Politics at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Cecil was the first chairman, from 1966 to 1971, of the United Nations and Disarmament (UNAD) Working Group of Friends Peace and International Relations Committee (FPIRC), and built it up into an effective Group.
In 1971 Cecil was appointed the International Secretary and later General Secretary of the FPIRC. He actively promoted the campaign for the renewal of Britain’s acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the ratification of the two United Nations Human Rights Covenants. He encouraged Friends to write to MPs. He promoted the campaign to withdraw Britain from the Arms Trade. He wrote to The Times about the importance to the Church of having only ethical investments.
With restructuring in October 1978 he was appointed Assistant General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Service, the amalgamated body of Friends Service Council and the FPIRC, a post he held until his retirement (circa 1990).
Nicholas Sims, who was chairman of UNAD and its successor (the United Nations Committee of QPS), and a member of FPIRC and QPS, writes “During his time at Friends House he was very supportive of his committee members and his colleagues, just the kind of loyal servant our Society owed so much to in the heyday of Quaker international affairs work. He took infinite pains to enable Friends to carry the work forward and to get it right.” Cecil was also secretary of the Quaker group for diplomats in London.
Cecil managed the “One Percent Fund”, arising out of the concern endorsed by Yearly Meeting in 1968, to encourage (by practical example and advocacy) the Quaker concern that 1% of the GNP (the value of all goods and services produced) should go to overseas aid. This target had been recommended by the 2nd UN Trade and Development Conference for overseas aid programmes of wealthier countries by 1975, endorsed by the Pearson Report of the World Bank. Cecil supported the view that this was “the first stumbling step towards the ideal of an international welfare state”, and Cecil was advocating that Friends ought to be concerned about fair trade agreements with developing countries, as well as aid for development. Eventually the work of this Fund was taken forward by the Committee on the Sharing of World Resources.
Cecil is represented in Quaker Faith and Practice in an article he wrote in 1987, and it is a fine expression of Quaker conviction on the roots of world poverty and speaking truth to power;
“Our primary objective in speaking truth to power on social and economic issues, especially on the problem of world poverty, should be the interests of the poor. Our role is to remind the rich and privileged, including ourselves, of the challenge to surrender privilege.”
Cecil represented British Quakers for years on an annual consultation on Quaker work at the UN (QUNC) set up in the 1970s. He participated actively in the NGO Human Rights Network in London, acting as its secretary for a time. He strongly supported the Quaker witness in Europe at Brussels, and the setting up of Quaker House in Brussels.
Cecil was active ecumenically. He was a member of the British Council of Churches Advisory Forum on Human Rights in the 1970’s. He was greatly valued by his counterparts in the other denominational headquarters and the BCC. He was influential in getting ecumenical support for the abolition of torture, and the abolition of the death penalty, as concerns to be taken forward by the British churches together and promoted on UN agendas.
In 1982 Cecil married Isabel Copeland-Watts at Uxbridge Meeting House and they both became members of Jordans Monthly Meeting (now Chilterns Area Meeting) in 1983, worshipping firstly at Amersham Meeting, where he was an elder, and then at Jordans Local Meeting where he has served as clerk and in many other ways. Friends rejoice at the happiness that their marriage brought to both of them over 26 years. Cecil and Isabel are remembered for their guided walks in the area to trace out the early history of Jordans Meeting in the 17th century. Cecil is also remembered for his ministry on the life and teaching of William Penn, who is buried at Jordans. He often ministered on the writing of William Penn:
“True Godliness does not turn us out of the world, but enables us to live better in it, and excites our endeavours to mend it”
Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund
From 1980 Cecil has been a Trustee, Chairman and, latterly, Patron of the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund in London. Originally established in 1962 as the relief arm of Amnesty International, the Fund is now a separate charity and the only agency in the UK making grants specifically to prisoners of conscience – individuals who have been persecuted for their conscientiously-held beliefs, provided that they have not used or advocated violence. The Fund aims to raise and distribute money to help prisoners of conscience and/or their families rehabilitate themselves during and after their ordeal. Financial grants cover general hardship relief, furniture, medicines, travel costs, family reunion costs, education, counselling, requalification costs, resettlement costs and protective accompaniment.
As a trustee of the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund, in 1992, Cecil introduced the Fund’s work to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT), based in Geneva. Through Cecil’s initial recommendation, this UN Fund agreed to support the Appeal Fund’s beneficiaries who had suffered torture. Cecil nurtured this relationship for several years as Chair and the support is still ongoing, 17 years later. In total, £700,000 has been raised to support prisoners of conscience who have been subjected to torture, and thousands of individuals and their families have benefited from this wonderful legacy. Rosamund Horwood-Smith, former chair of the Fund, has written;
“My memories of Cecil are of his gentle integrity, his sensitivity to the needs of others and his modesty. He had a wonderful and ready smile, his voice was melodious and his words considered and he gave his time and wise counsel to us at Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund without stint. We will remember him with great affection and gratitude.”
Tom Blumenau, former Director of the Fund, has written;
“I think the overwhelming quality, which Cecil had, was a complete fairness and the support he gave to his colleagues. He was very much supported in his activities — particularly his work with the Quakers – by his wife Isabel. He was what one would call a really good man”
Cecil has written many articles on subjects related to peace, particularly for The Friend. For example, he wrote about his belief in the power of letter writing in ‘speaking truth to power’, and another expressing his approval of the setting up of a Quaker Fellowship by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. He spoke extensively at Friends Meetings, and meetings of the UNA.
Conscientious Objection to paying tax for war purposes
Cecil became the clerk of a Meeting for Sufferings group on Conscientious Objection – the withholding of taxes for military purposes. With the assistance of Meeting for Sufferings the independent Peace Tax Campaign was set up in 1980. Meeting for Sufferings agreed, on behalf of its own employees, including Cecil, that it could support the conscientious objection of staff members to paying for arms through PAYE, and was supported by Yearly Meeting in 1983. This led to the Clerk and Assistant Clerk of Meeting for Sufferings, Beryl Hibbs and Maisie Birmingham, appearing in court, and judgement was awarded to the Inland Revenue. The decision was appealed before the Master of the Rolls, the clerks spoke movingly in their own defence, but the judge found that the lack of the right to withhold tax did not infringe fundamental liberties. Meeting for Sufferings decided to pay all the withheld tax, on the grounds that the law had been tested as far as possible. In 1987 Yearly Meeting took on the concern afresh, and minuted that
“We are convinced by the Spirit of God to say without any hesitation whatsoever that we must support the right of conscientious objection to paying taxes for war purposes”
Meeting for Sufferings appointed a Working Group on Taxation for Military Purposes, of which Cecil was the clerk, and the group consulted widely with local meetings. In March 1989 Meeting for Sufferings decided in principle to support those employees who held a conscientious objection to paying taxes for military purposes, including Cecil. However, this decision caused considerable controversy locally, and no practicable way forward was found, and the staff request has not been considered further since that time. Meeting for Sufferings also considered a proposal that it should express a corporate objection to collecting tax for military purposes by ceasing to pay this proportion of tax to the Inland Revenue. However Meeting for Sufferings did not proceed with this proposal because of the unease of some staff. From December 1991 Meeting for Sufferings asked its clerk to write a letter to the Inland Revenue each month when the PAYE cheque was sent, explaining the concern of Friends and making it clear that payment was being made under protest.
Yearly Meeting in 1993 agreed to “accept the discipline of taking parliamentary action on payment of taxes for military purposes” which included the writing of letters to MPs.
Parliamentary action continued, and in January 1994 a 10 minute rule bill was introduced on behalf of the Peace Tax Campaign and an Early Day Motion on the subject by the close of the 1994 session of Parliament. A report on this was received by Yearly Meeting in 1995. In all of this, Cecil kept alive a vision of a peace-building fund created with funds diverted from tax revenue used for military purposes, which could be spent on helping to remove the causes of war, such as poverty, the plight of refugees, as well as peace keeping and peace research. Cecil quoted Robert Barclay in his Apology recognising that it may be right for an individual or group to take a position for which most people are not yet ready. Cecil felt that there should be some in the world who seek to present a standard of Christian perfection by going the whole way now, thus being able to indicate the objective to which all will eventually be drawn.
In 1996, Cecil wrote a booklet, The Claims of Conscience, Quakers and Conscientious Objection to taxation for military purposes, published by Quaker Home Service, London, which sets out with great clarity the ethics of conscientious objection, and the history of the concern amongst Friends, with a vision for the future.
The quality of Cecil’s service and the recognition that he had much to offer adult education in the field of international relations led to an invitation in 1994 to become a Friend in Residence along with his wife, Isabel, in Woodbrooke, the Quaker Adult Education Centre in Birmingham. Out of his experience he led sessions on the United Nations and rose to the challenge of engaging with diverse views on the role and effectiveness of the UN.
The Gandhi Foundation
In December 1982, Sir Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi won 8 Oscars. At the time, Cecil was Assistant General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Service and had met Surur Hoda in his role as UK Secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation. They discovered that they both had a deep admiration for the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi.
The astounding success of Gandhi in the UK months later prompted Surur to invite Cecil to go with Lord Ennals, Diana Schumacher, Martin Polden, Rex Ambler and himself to Sir Richard’s house with a view to setting up The Gandhi Foundation. The trust deeds were duly completed later that year with Richard as President and David Ennals as Chairman. Cecil contributed enormous energies to an already dynamic Committee which, from 1985, organised with increasing success three annual events and a quarterly newsletter. The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture is on Gandhi’s birthday [2nd October – now UN Day of Nonviolence] and has had five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates deliver the Lecture to date. The Gandhi Multi-faith Service has been held every year since 1987 to mark Gandhi’s death on 30th January and a week long Summer School is held to elucidate a Gandhian response to contemporary issues. The Gandhi Way newsletter has been edited since 1984 by George Paxton which means that the 100th issue will be published this Spring. The Foundation has funded many other projects over the last quarter century, both here and in India, most benefiting from the tens of thousands of pounds that Cecil raised for The Foundation.
Cecil always offered wise counsel on the way forward. He led discussions in Committee, in the Summer School, in Conferences and gave lectures about Gandhi whenever he was asked. Many will happily recall how his diplomatic skills were used so gently but authoritatively, most publicly when he ‘refereed’ speakers at the Multi-faith services held in Kingsley Hall and in St James, Piccadilly: some let their enthusiasm take them beyond their allotted time and so were shown first a yellow card and then a red card!
Cecil took over as Chairman of the Foundation when David Ennals died in 1995. He then presided over the Annual Lectures given by The Revd the Lord Soper, Mairead Maguire, Bruce Kent, Professor Adam Curle, Dr. Scilla Elworthy, John Hume MP and Simon Hughes MP. He continued to come to the Lecture even though poorly until October 2008 when Rev Harold Good and Father Alec Reid, who jointly witnessed the decommissioning of IRA weapons, gave the Lecture and received the Peace Award in The House of Lords.
In 1999, Cecil and Surur conceived, planned and presented the first International Gandhi Peace Award. This was received posthumously by Lady Eirwen Harbottle, the widow of Major-General Sir Michael Harbottle who had founded “Generals for Peace”. In subsequent years, Cecil saw The Peace Award being given by the sub-Committee to his friends Nicholas Gillett, Peter Dent & Bill Peters, the latter two being the Founders of “Jubilee 2000”. The Peace Award will continue to be presented in memory of Cecil and Surur Hoda for as long as it is given.
The grace of God in Cecil’s life
Since 1953, when he first joined the Religious Society of Friends, Cecil has worked tirelessly on behalf of others by promoting peace and non-violence. Stuart Morton, staff member of Quaker Peace and Social Witness writes:
“Throughout all of his work, Cecil has touched and improved many thousands of lives around the world through his dedicated championing of peace, non-violence and reconciliation. He continues to be an inspiration to all of those who have the pleasure of knowing or working with him. Cecil combined moral and intellectual clarity with a great respect for whoever it was that he was engaging with. He was dedicated to the work of peace and in my experience worked very hard to be fully ready for any dialogue that would promote peace and justice. His tone of voice was always one of positive encouragement to those staff and committee members who worked alongside him. His generosity of spirit, outward calm, and sensitive veracity marked him out as a Quaker and a diplomat.”
Friends who knew Cecil have commented that he was “a kindler, not a snuffer”: He always wore the broken chain of the Jubilee Debt Campaign in his button hole. He worked constantly for peace; he loved people; he was always gracious. He had a gift for building people up with quiet words of appreciation. The Grace of God shone through him in all these ways. Cecil left us with a vision for the future. He hoped that in the coming century – sooner rather than later – we shall be able to abolish war, and the conditions that make for war. He wrote;
“it may sound far-fetched, but it could be possible, with God’s help, if we have a will to do it. One of the ways of achieving it will be through a strengthened United Nations. The UN has the machinery potentially through it preventative diplomacy and in other ways to help achieve it. It is the responsibility of member governments to enable the UN to fulfil its potential, and for its citizens like ourselves to see that governments do so”.
John Rowley of the Gandhi Foundation writes
“The lasting memory of any encounter with Cecil was his gentle humour, the grace of his manner and the thoughtfulness of his words. All of us who knew him throughout his unstinting support for The Gandhi Foundation, or who heard or read his erudite and articulate advocacy of non-violence in all human activity, or who benefited from his vast practical experience in resolving conflicts will remember this man with love and a smile. We were privileged to know him.”
In his garden Cecil was passionate about growing roses, and to the end of his life was the President of the Seer Green Horticultural Society. He found rose growing a therapeutic and restful change from the stresses of his working life. Cecil always carried the Tewkesbury Abbey blessing with him, and it expresses well how the grace of God shone through his life:
Go on your way in peace. Be of good courage. Hold fast that which is good; render no man evil for evil. Strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help and cheer the sick, honour all men, love and serve the Lord; and may the blessing of God be upon you and remain with you for ever.
In the last months of his life Cecil moved into a nursing home where he was cared for whilst suffering the early symptoms of dementia, and limited mobility. He was cheerful and positive to the end of his life, sharing worship with Friends who called to visit him in the last two days of his life. Asked how he was he replied, “All the better for seeing you!” He was a benign and kindly Friend who always left his friends feeling better for having met him and known him. We are glad to have known him.