By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
One of the most loved and fondly remembered women of the last century is Olave Baden Powell, founder of the worldwide Guiding movement. Girls and young women today often have few healthy models on which to base their life. One only has to think of the infamous rock star Madonna or Paris Hilton to realize how much we need role models like Lady Baden Powell.
Olave Baden Powell, who died in 1977, was a woman who loved and cared for millions, and in return was loved and cared for by millions. Olave energetically led a movement which now includes over 8 million Sparks, Brownies, Guides, and Pathfinders (and over 500 girls in the Seymour/Deep Cove area). She was radically unselfish, always thinking of the other, always thinking of a way to serve her fellow human being. She and her husband Robert both believed that “happiness comes not from what we have but from what we give and what we share”, Lady Baden Powell was a wonderful example of what true Christianity is all about: loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself. One of the most distinctive things about Olave was her smile. Her smile was not that of politeness put on for an occasion but of honest to goodness enjoyment of what she was doing. It was a most infectious smile. People felt it quite impossible not to give an answering grin when they met her sparkling eyes and smiling mouth face to face.
Though raised in an affluent upper class home, Olave did not find life to be always easy. Her father Harold Soames was a restless artist who uprooted his family six times in nine short years, and was often away painting overseas. The affluent life of leisure bored Olave and left her longing to do something useful with her life. But even her small effort at amusing and teaching handicapped boys was frowned upon by her family, because it interfered with her daily schedule of tennis and squash.
Her parents had initial feelings of reluctance over Olave marrying a man more than thirty years older than her. But when her mother Katherine found out that Olave intended to join the Guides and to throw her lot in with “those wild girls”, her mother was horrified. The name “Girl Guide” was anathema to her mother. Sadly she never overcame her dislike of Olave’s work, even going to such lengths as running away and hiding if she thought Guides were about to appear. Olave was never allowed to be in Guide Uniform in her mother’s presence. Her mother’s resentment of Guiding was deeply hurtful to Olave, and drove a wedge between an otherwise close relationship.
Initially Olave was not greatly interested in Girl Guides, for she preferred to serve as a Lady Scout Master for a Boy Scout Troop in Ewhurst, England. When she first offered her services to the Girl Guides (at her husband’s request), they turned her down because they felt that she was too young and inexperienced! But Olave believed that “… when God wants one to do something, He smooths away the difficulties in one’s way.” So she persisted and was so dedicated in organizing the Guides in Sussex that they elected Olave as Chief Commissioner for England, In the next 18 months, she recruited 2,840 Guide Commissioners, and organized every county in England! All this was accomplished despite the fact that 19 out of every 20 potential commissioners turned down her request.
“I do not think anyone ever realized,” wrote Olave, “how deep and passionate was our love for each other _” So when her husband Lord Baden Powell died at Nyeri, Kenya in 1941, Olave experienced his death as a terrible blow. She longed for nothing but death itself. For the first time in her courage seemed to desert her. Olave felt utterly alone and very restless. She wondered if she would ever find real contentment again. Fortunately her husband had left her four farewell letters that help her recover her peace of mind. She found that by throwing herself into caring for Guides and Scouts, her grief became manageable.
Another great source of comfort to her was her personal faith. Olave was a committed churchgoer and a very God centered woman. I thank God daily,” wrote Olave, for the wonderful way in which His Divine Hand led us both (Robert and Olave) to come together … How richly God blessed us both in giving us our work and each other.” Olave was very clear about the priority of the Guide and Scout promise to “do my duty to God” (love and serve God). As Olave’s official biography put it, “she had traveled in most countries in the world and taken part in services in great Cathedrals as well as in small churches of many denominations, for “Duty to God” is the Guide’s first Promise and this involves worship as well as service.” Olave also expressed her Christian commitment by serving as godmother to over 40 baptized children … a duty she took very seriously. Olave wrote in her autobiography: If I have any message to leave, it is this: Believe in God. He guides and protects you all through life.” My prayer is that the practical spirituality of Olave Baden Powell may inspire all of us, whether or not we are guides, to a deeper love of God and our neighbour.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
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