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Nancy Meek Pocock, 1910-1998.

"Retire, why ever would I?" Nancy Pocock remarked when she was 86 years old. `Mama Nancy,' as she was known to refugees from around the world, died one year later, signing papers for an Iranian refugee even as she lay in hospital.

The fond nickname, Mama Nancy, scrawled on tiny pieces of paper, even written on the palms of their hands, was often the only thing the refugees brought with them when they arrived in Toronto from El Salvador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Iran and recently Zaire, in fact, from whatever country where oppression had forced them to flee.

Nancy Pocock, born in Chicago, took some time to achieve international fame. She always gave credit to her Canadian husband, Jack, for starting her off on what was to become her lifework: the causes of pacifism, disarmament, and refugee support. She was a founding member of the Voice of Women and of the Board of Directors of Project Ploughshares.

Nancy's family came to Toronto in 1920, where Nancy attended Central Technical High School and the Ontario College of Art. It was while she had a jewellery studio on Gerrard Street that she met her future husband. Theirs was a love match that sadly came to an end with his death in 1975. Jack served in the British army during the Second World War. His experiences then convinced him, too, that war was abhorrent.

The couple's only daughter Judy was born while Jack was overseas. In his absence Nancy had begun attending Quaker Meetings and it wasn't long before both became members. They were particularly attracted to the Friends Peace Testimony, and expressed it in opposing the Vietnam War and the introduction of nuclear weapons to Canada, and through other forms of peace education and action.

In 1963 the Canadian Friends Service Committee, for which Nancy served for a period as Clerk, established the Grindstone Island Peace Centre on a twelve-acre island near Ottawa. The Pococks were in charge of the Island for its first month of operation, one which featured the first CFSC Training Institute in Nonviolence. They were present at all seven Institutes, as well as at other programs including a Conference for Diplomats, a High School Workshop and programs involving the Campaigns for Nuclear Disarmament, Voice of Women, Student Union for Peace Action and other peace movement weekends.

The attendance of Grindstone programs by draft resisters from the United States was the beginning of the Pococks' increasing interest in, attention to, and care of immigrants and refugees. The programs actually served as a training period for Nancy's evolving work with refugees, the first of whom came from El Salvador. Nancy had visited Dallas, Texas with the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees. There she was told that the US government was turning Salvadorean refugees back at the border and had not considered Canada as an alternative destination because they believed refugees would want to avoid its cold climate.

Nancy believed otherwise. She returned to Canada and formed a committee, and soon the refugees were making their way here. From the beginning there were counselling sessions, and before her death art therapy was being offered to victims of torture. Over the years Nancy's daughter Judy estimates that Nancy raised more than $2 million for her work.

In her final years Nancy grieved over a refugee situation that she described as "desperate." In recent times the Canadian government has imposed significant cutbacks in services, and there are stiff costs that refugees must pay in order to be allowed residency. New regulations are making entry into Canada more difficult and public attitudes have hardened.

Nancy Pocock's name and work are known and remembered around the world. Today a medical clinic in Vietnam bears her name, and in 1978 she was awarded the Medal of Friendship by Vietnam. She received many other awards and recognitions including the Pearson Peace Medal in 1987, an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Queen's University in 1990, and the Order of Ontario in 1992.

To Canadians and others, hers was a constant voice in raising consciousness and seeking action on social issues. To refugees reaching Canada, poor and homeless, she will always be remembered as `Mama Nancy,' the woman who opened her heart and her home to them all.

Ann Farrell, Toronto Monthly Meeting of Friends

Murray Thomson, Ottawa Monthly Meeting of Friends
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Publication:Ploughshares Monitor
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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