I am fortunate to be able to count myself as just one of the many hundreds of friends that Mr. Ian Semple had around the Bahá’í world. I grieve for the great loss to our Bahá’í world community, and for the loss of a remarkable friend, a man of the highest sterling qualities, who was endowed with several outstanding gifts and capacities. Mr. Semple and I corresponded regularly for about 5 years in the early 1990’s, and we kept in touch thereafter for some time by e-mail. Our last exchange took place about 3 years ago. In that message, he wrote that the Universal House of Justice always reached “unanimity” on important questions.
In 1996, while I was on a three day visit to Haifa, Daniel Caillaud, who is still serving at the Bahá’í World Centre, and I had the great pleasure of being invited to Louise and Ian Semple’s home for dinner. We enjoyed the Semple’s warm hospitality and savoured a friendly conversation. I couldn’t help but notice the simplicity and modesty of their home on Mt. Carmel. The furniture had seen years of wear and had accommodated, I suspect, perhaps hundreds of guests since 1963. In their concern for economy, the Semples had foregone any justified request for newer furnishings.
In one of my files, marked with his name, I have 11 letters from Ian Semple, 8 of which are handwritten. Some of them are 4 pages in length, written with a broad nib, in dark blue ink, on the English format, longer stationary of 8x11½ inches. They reveal the hand that I first saw in the signature “The Universal House of Justice.” It seems remarkable to me that, as busy as he was, with the many onerous duties of a member of the Universal House of Justice on his shoulders, that he made the time to write his friends and admirers such detailed letters. I know he had many other correspondents. In his letter of September 1, 1990, he wrote with that unfailing courtesy and gentility that was always his: “Dear Jack, Please forgive me for not answering your letter before now.” The House of Justice had been labouring to complete on time the English translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. So his correspondence was delayed. He mentioned that he had “more than 60 letters to answer.”
These detailed letters all show clearly the remarkable qualities that the Universal House of Justice named in the announcement of his passing. Mr. Semple was also a scholar, with several articles to his credit. He was interested, as I am, in Bahá’í theology, and he was once referred to as “the House theologian.” We had, consequently, several fascinating scholarly exchanges touching on this question. His was a keen, alert, detailed, incisive mind, never missing a doubtful point. In spite of his unfailing courtesy, he did not hesitate to point out where he felt I had gone wrong, all the while maintaining his enthusiasm and appreciation for what I had written. He once even corrected my grammar! And, believe me, I was grateful for the correction. Ever eager to defend the truth as he saw it, his perceptive mind was graced by a character, touched, as I said, by a gentility, courtesy, humility and kindness that could not but help to endear him to his friends. I saw him the last time several years ago, accompanied by his son Michael, at an Association for Bahá’í Studies North America conference. He had grown thinner and frailer with the passing years, but his modesty, courtesy and gentility still shone through as always.
This evening, I have been rereading his letters. In several of them, he wrote of the simple things of life: his vacations with his wife Louise, the accomplishments of his children in university, their personal lives, the current projects of the House of Justice, the passing pilgrims whom I knew, and other mentions of ordinary, everyday life. He was clearly a family man who loved and took great pride in his children.
I like to think now, as I hoped even then, that his brief mentions of commonplace things provided him with some pleasant relief from the many heavy tasks that were his daily bread. It brings me some comfort today to know that writing me brought him perhaps a few moments of relaxation and pleasure.
My dear Ian! May Bahá’u’lláh exalt your noble soul in the Abha Kingdom!