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Ambassador at the Court:
The Life and Photography of Effie Baker

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 11

Last Years in Haifa

In the 1930s the labours and responsibilities of Shoghi Effendi increased. He returned from a holiday in October 1931, Effie felt, not looking any better, and even more tired and worried than when he departed. Pilgrims and assistants continued to arrive and depart in a steady stream. Mrs Lynch was in Haifa in November, assisting Shoghi Effendi with translation of German correspondence, and possibly also some Russian. Albert Windust also arrived in November, to assist Shoghi Effendi with preparation of the next volume of the Bahá'í World.

Late in 1931 Effie was overjoyed to welcome to Haifa Auckland Bahá'ís Amy Dewing and her daughter Vera. She had not spoken with any Bahá'ís from near her homeland since the pilgrimage of Amy Dewing's son Bertram, in April 1930. Effie and Fujita accompanied the Dewings to Bahji and Akka, and made sure of their physical comfort during their precious days spent in the precints of the Holy shrines. From 1932 pilgrims were allowed to sleep in the mansion at Bahji overnight.

Clara Dunn made her pilgrimage in April 1932. This must have been a wonderul reunion for Effie, so many years after taking leave of the Dunns. Clara signed the visitors book at Bahji on the 15th of April. and may have been among the first pilgrims permitted from that year to sleep overnight at the Mansion of Bahji. Shoghi Effendi, however, was keenly disappointed that Hyde Dunn was not with her After a brief stay, Clara returned to Australia, bearing instructions from Shoghi Effendi to the the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand that the time had come to establish their National Spiritual Assembly.

Life at the pilgrim house continued unchanged throughout 1933. On pilgrimage in April were the remarkable individuals Marzieh Gail, Marjorie Morten, Mark Tobey, and Moutfood Mills. Marzieh Gail, who was greeted at the pilgrim house by Effie and Fujita when she arrived on 17 April, recorded in her diary:

Effie's three white cats with pink ears in the white marble halls. Canaries also - a swift, a salvaged bird's nest - makes doll's houses, knowledge of flowers. Takes exquisite care of pilgrim house. Floats roses in glass bowls. Puts a pink or yellow flower on Howard's tray. She and Marjorie seemed to get along very well.1

Keith Ransom-Kehler, who arrived in August and stayed for nine weeks, was another who noticed and appreciated Effie's spiritual qualities. She rushed a report of her visit to Star of the West, which the editors published in the November issue:

I am greeted by Fujita, a child of Nippon, then by Isfendiar from the Cradle of the Faith, and next by Effie Baker, cameo-like, the first person in Australia to embrace this all inclusive message. On, on, the irresistable tide of fellowship and goodwill is carrying the soul of humanity to a new attitude of love, abnegation and service. Effie, with a self-effacement that only the love of God could give, reflects the spirit of the Holy Family in her work at the pilgrim house. She comes out to embrace me with an unaffected cordiality and to knit still closer those intangible bonds that will hold me to this sacred spot forever."2

Mrs Ransom-Kehler came from New York. A world traveller promoting the Bahá'í Teachings, she had visited the Communities in Australia and New Zealand during 1931-32, and conducted an exhaustive tour of India before reaching Haifa. Shoghi Effendi had requested her to travel to Persia to conduct a delicate assignment with government officials, and there she died in Isfahan, of scarlet fever, in 1933.

Passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf

Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, the daughter of Bahá'u'lláh who had been such a support to Shoghi Effendi, died in July 1932. Her loss was deeply felt by him, and was no less a loss to Effie, who loved her so dearly. Forever after Effie kept with her Marjorie Morten's tribute to the Greatest Holy Leaf:

Something greater than forgiveness she had shown in meeting the cruelties and strictures in her own life. To be hurt and to forgive is saintly but far beyond this is the power to comprehend and not be hurt. This power she had. The word mazlum, which signifies acceptance without complaint, has come to be associated with her name. She was never known to complain or lament. It was not that she made the best of things, but that she found in everything, even in calamity itself, the germs of enduring wisdom. She did not resist the shocks and upheavals of life and she did not run counter to obstacles. She was never impatient. She was as incapable of impatience as she was of revolt. But this was not so much long-sufferance as it was quiet awareness of the forces that operate in the hours of waiting and inactivity. Always she moved with the larger rhythm, the wider sweep, toward the ultimate goal. Surely, confidently, she followed the circle of her orbit round the Sun of her existence, in that complete acquiescence, that perfect accord, which underlies faith itself.3

Signs of appreciation

Photographic work for the Guardian continued. The American National Assembly had come to appreciate her photographic work, and secretary Horace Holley wrote on its behalf:

May I ...express the heartfelt gratitude of all the American friends for the many unique illustrations you contributed to the Dawnbreakers as well as to successive volumes of the Bahá'í World. These photographs are most inspiring to the American Bahá'ís.4

The British Bahá'ís, too, recognized Effie's achievement, when summarising the progress of Bahá'í community in 1944 - the occasion of the centenary of the Declaration of the Báb.5

Effie served as photographic editor for the 1934-36 volume of the Bahá'í World, as she had for earlier volumes. In her work as pilgrim house hostess, no less than in her photographic work, Effie had consolidated her reputation. When Corrine True made her final visit to Haifa in 1935, records her biographer, she

... entered the Pilgrim House as if she were visiting a close relative. She was in familiar surroundings, having stayed there her last two pilgrimages. As soon as she set foot in the dwelling, she called out: "Yoo hoo, Effie, I'm here!" and proceeded to search for her friend.

Effie had lovely rooms arranged for Corrine and her daughters. A vase of fresh flowers was on each dresser.6

In 1935 Effie served her tenth year as pilgrim hostel hostess. But the signs were that Effie's service at Haifa was near an end. Now aged 55, the physical demands of living in Haifa became more stressful. At home, in Goldsborough Victoria, her mother was quite elderly, and in need of constant and loving care. Toward the end of 1935 Effie resigned from Haifa's Social Service and Infant Welfare Association. Before doing so, Effie constructed a doll's house for the Association to sell to raise funds for the Centre was now treating some 3,000 infants. Sale of the dolls house raised £P.mills 53,200, an amount only exceeded that year by the Municipality of Haifa's donation of £P.mills 60,000. Shoghi Effendi had himself subscribed 10,000 to the work of the Centre.7 As Nathan Rutstein has recorded of the Guardian:

His contributions for charitable and educational purposes in the Holy Land were many and much appreciated throughout his ministry.8

In the time that Effie lived in Haifa it had grown from a small town of some twenty thousand people, into to a thriving port of over 75,000 inhabitants. She had come to know the sound of pilgrims' feet on red crushed tiles, as they walked through aisles of green grass and colourful beds of flowers, toward the Shrine of the Bab. She knew, too, the rhythm of the Holy household, and of the daily routine of Shoghi Effendi, who worked ceaselessly as head of the steadily expanding Bahá'í Faith. Shoghi Effendi may have felt that with his pending marriage to Mary Maxwell he was less in need of Effie's assistance. Certainly, he perceived the war clouds in Europe which resulted a short time later in the devastation of the Second World War, and considerable danger to all those who lived in Haifa during it. Whatever the reasons, Effie departed from Haifa at the beginning of 1936, having earned the lasting gratitude of Shoghi Effendi for her devoted services, and the admiration of countless Bahá'í pilgrims to witnessed her example of love, devotion and humility.

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