Monday, May 07, 2012

Phyllis Bowman





Phyllis Bowman, the UK's leading Pro Life campaigner has died. She was 85.

I had the privilege of knowing her in recent years.

Much has already been written about her irreplaceable contribution to the Pro Life cause which I do not propose to replicate here; mere words, after all, cannot record the totality of her work and the scale of her commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable.

I will say, however, that though she stood just 5 foot tall, she was the only Pro Life campaigner of distinction in this country. The reason for this, I think, was that Phyllis did not come from the kind of background you would expect a Pro Lifer to come from. She wasn't born a Catholic - she came from a Sephardi Jewish family, was intensely proud of her roots and had a rich appreciation for the religion of her ancestors - and went on to become a Fleet Street journalist in the heady years of the postwar boom. An anti-war activist, she was in many ways the archetypal left-leaning 60s liberal who was enthusiastic about the social reform causes of that time. She had a tolerant attitude to people's private lives, never had any patience with homophobia and was a lifelong genuine anti-racist.

Her Pro Life values were a continuation of her 60s left-liberalism, not a departure from them. Accordingly they were suffused with her innate humanitarianism. Not for Phyllis any sanctimonious moralising or bland feel-good platitudes. Phyllis's language reflected her vivacity and could when the occasion required be deliciously pungent. "I can see around corners," she once told me with a bewitching smile, adding naughtily "it's the Jew in me."

There was nothing of the marble figurine about Phyllis Bowman. She was, rather, a magnificent, beguiling diva. When Phyllis spoke you listened, when Phyllis commanded you obeyed, for she spoke with authority; when Phyllis upbraided you, you were aware of the fact that she, no respecter of the false divisions of class and social status, had upbraided many a high and mighty politician too and that you damned well deserved her censure.

She was wise, she could be infuriating, she was always charming but most of all Phyllis Bowman was tender-hearted. I recall with affection her many personal kindnesses to me. There is a Hebrew word which describes her: Chesed. It means loving-kindness. That was what she was.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Stuart said...

This is the best blog post yet as it it gives you a sense of this remarkable person.

Thank you.

5/07/2012 12:03 PM  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

Grande dame (literally, in the Papal sense) of the pro-life cause in Britain. Jewish convert to Catholicism. Pro-life and pro-family precisely because staunchly Old Labour. And staunchly Old Labour precisely because pro-life and pro-family.

The Reverend Alan Rabjohns, the former SPUC Chairman who followed her to the Board of Trustees of Right to Life, is of the same political mind and is also a converted Jew, for the time being leading the Anglo-Catholic rearguard action in the Church in Wales.

Pray for them both.

5/07/2012 1:31 PM  
Blogger Graham Combs said...

Thank you for your kinds words about Phyllis Bowman. So far, yours are the only ones that speak of her life-long journey from there to here. As a convert myself, I am always comforted by Mrs. Bowman and converts like her. It can feel a bit lonely sometimes. It certainly takes a special courage to travel from Judaism to Catholicism. In my many years in New York most of my acquaintances and friends were Jewish which deepened my understanding because of our differences not in spite of them. Thank you again. We can ill-afford to lose Phyllis Bowman. The future is not going to be an easier.

5/16/2012 3:31 PM  
Anonymous SANDRA said...

YES PHYLLIS SPOKE AND YOU REALLY DID LISTEN. HER WORDS WERE HONEST, SOUL SEARCHING AND TRUE. WE HAVE LOST A REMARKABLE LADY, I WORKED FOR HER FOR 14 YEARS, AND CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT SHE WAS WITHOUT DOUBT THE MOST LEADING LIGHT THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT WILL EVER HAVE. GOD BLESS HER AND HER FAMILY, HER WORK WILL CONTINUE.

7/04/2012 1:42 PM  

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