Helen Hollingsworth's Death Challenges Us All

by Ted Klitzke, Larry Krause and Alice Cherbonnier

IT IS PERHAPS FITTING that Helen Hollingsworth, who died on December 10, left this world at a time when the world seems somewhat more peaceful than it has been in recent decades.
Helen would have disputed that point, however. If the Soviet threat was gone, new and continuing trouble spots continued to demand attention. The week before she died, she was collecting signatures on letters calling for human rights investigations in Bosnia.
For Helen saw the interrelationships of things; a little problem over here might foretell of an emerging bigger problem over there. For many years, she was an unflagging practitioner of non-violent resistance and protest. Where this energy came from might have mystified those who knew her only slightly; her frail appearance belied her steely determination and devotion.
The energy may have come from her hope that there really was a Supreme Being, though discouraging world events caused her to have her doubts about that Being's powers. To the end, she persevered, evoking reminders of old Quaker challenges: "What canst thou say?" and "The only hands God has are ours."
Helen was a stimulating and stabilizing force in working with groups of people with disparate views. Although she was forthright and forceful in expressing her opinions, she sought to resolve conflicts and disagreements through persuasion and consensus rather than confrontation. But she never went along with others merely for harmony's sake, and consequently sometimes found herself to be a lone-and articulate-dissenter on an issue.
The title of the "Vision and Action" discussion series, which she created and nurtured, provides insight into her outlook, life, and activities. She recognized that it is not enough to have a vision; there must be action on that vision to make it an effective reality. In organizing events such as this series, she left nothing to chance, working tirelessly to embrace and further the spirit of the enterprise.
While her major concerns were immediately social and political, she valued the arts highly, not only for themselves, but how they affect human relationships. She regularly attended symphony and other music events, and the walls of her apartment were hung with abstract and realistic art. She was a major impetus behind the Arts and Peace Festival, held for many years on the campus of Friends School. And somehow she also found time to volunteer at Everyman Theater.
Helen brought together so many people and groups in the peace and social justice community. One example was the Arts and Peace Festival, involving many organizations and people of various backgrounds. This large-scale project demonstrated Helen's extraordinary abilities to interest and involve people and bring out their best.
As involved as she was-it seemed like she had a committee meeting every night-she still had time for her friends and especially her children, for whom her affection and pride was obvious.
Widely known for her dinner parties, Helen brought together people from all walks of life, and stimulated not only lively conversation, but cross-pollination among activists.
Helen was always probing and asking questions-about nature, about the nature of humankind, about spiritual issues. She puzzled over where man fit into the scheme of things, always maintained that man's position on earth was no more important than that of any other living thing. She would say that "if the cockroaches were to dominate the earth, then so be it-if that is to be the order of things."
She was deeply concerned about how man not only exploited the world, but also fellow beings. She expressed concern about how the northern hemisphere continues to take advantage of the southern hemisphere.
Helen loved the natural world, and turned to it to learn and to appreciate. She had a special affinity for trees; perhaps the strength and deep-rootedness of trees served as a symbol or model for her, as most of what she did required both emotional and intellectual strength.
On philosophical questions, she had a great curiosity about what others thought about death, immortality, and the existence of a hereafter. In this she seemed open to persuasion, but she did not modify her own position that we continue to live on in some form after death.
And so we say farewell to Helen Hollingsworth, our friend, mentor, example. She is now, in the words of fellow Quaker Oscar Bonney, "at home in the universe."

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This story was published on January 3, 1997.