Hands of the Cause of God:
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My first contact with Hand of the Cause Leroy Ioas came when I was in New Caledonia in 1955, trying to gain entry to the goal area of Loyalty Islands, and had written to the Guardian requesting a postponement of pilgrimage – an action, which in retrospect could have been disastrous as nobody in those days ever anticipated a time when the Guardian would no longer be with us. The response to my request had come in a letter from Leroy Ioas who was then Secretary-General of the International Bahá’í Council, with the usual handwritten postscript from the Guardian, confirming that the goal was of greater importance and pilgrimage could be postponed.
My first meeting with him was when I eventually arrived in Haifa on pilgrimage in January 1957, on the first evening at the dinner table – where, understandably, seeing another new face amongst others could not compete with the experience of meeting the beloved Guardian. But during those days of pilgrimage I was to see Mr Ioas frequently and was able to gain an impression of a person of great spiritual stature whom I would never forget. I knew at that time some little of his background, his long service to the Cause both in the United States and in the Holy Land. His reputation as an unparalleled administrator of the Faith was legend; his reputation as a teacher of the Faith was equally unique. I was yet to learn of the tremendous humanity and personal characteristics that made him so special.
I knew that it was Leroy Ioas who, as chair of the National Teaching Committee in the United States, had driven the teaching work of the first and second Seven Year Plans; that his membership on that committee went back to 1929 and he was chairman and its driving force for most of his service in that field; that he had been invited by the beloved Guardian to move to Haifa to assist him in his all-important work at the World Centre; and that he had been a senior executive for some major railway in America. But meeting him in person put all of that into perspective – or rather, into the background. His most important service to the Cause and the prime characteristic of his person was his absolute devotion to the beloved Guardian and the example that this offered to us all.
During the nine days of pilgrimage I was to see so many examples of that devotion and sheer humility before the Guardian. One such moment came during dinner one evening. In those days pilgrims came and went as individuals, staying their nine days as guests of the Guardian, and the Western pilgrims met with the Guardian over the evening dinner table. But that was also the time when the Guardian would consult with members of the International Bahá’í Council, and much of this consultation was with Mr Ioas, as its secretary-general. The Guardian would raise issues, consult with the members of the Council and issue instructions for what needed to be done each day. It was as if the pilgrims were invited to ‘sit in’ on a meeting of the Council – and it was all done so openly.
The construction of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Germany was one current project and rather complex negotiations relating to the acquisition of the land for that building were proceeding, and on one occasion Mr Ioas was explaining to the Guardian the difficulties that were being experienced in securing the land. As he was speaking the beloved Guardian raised one hand, interrupting Mr Ioas’s explanation, and placed it palm down on the table. “We must have that land, Leroy”. The words were spoken quietly but very firmly; the action was slow and moderate but the impact was staggering. It seemed to me like a clap of thunder – there was such a power in his movement and voice; it was a tone of voice that one did not question. All were quiet and Mr Ioas meekly said: “Yes, beloved Guardian.” That was it – no further discussion. Mr Ioas was a large man, with a powerful aura that commanded respect. But in his personal relationship with the Guardian, he was all meekness and absolute obedience
It seemed to me that, while on pilgrimage, one could see in Shoghi Effendi two separate and distinct entities: there was the warm and loving host, like one’s favourite uncle, who ensured that the visiting pilgrim was comfortable and gaining the most possible from pilgrimage; then there was the Guardian in the station that was conferred upon him by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – the Head of the Faith, the “Sign of God”, the “One to Whom all must turn”. I saw this second entity only a few times during the pilgrimage, and this was one of those occasions. It was the Guardian speaking, not Shoghi Effendi. And Mr Ioas bowed his head and submitted: “Yes, beloved Guardian.” This was a man who had managed corporate affairs for the Southern Pacific railroad, who in his working life had been accustomed to giving the orders, and now he had placed himself totally subservient to the wishes and needs of his Guardian.
This same relationship is evident in many of the stories we have about Leroy Ioas, in the stories he told of his own experience with the Guardian. His whole life was committed and devoted to the service of the Guardian and the Faith – totally committed. And he himself was as nothing.
One such story Leroy Ioas told the friends gathered at the Intercontinental Conference in Djakarta, Indonesia, in September 1958 – one of the series of conferences called to mark the midway point of the Ten Year Crusade, and which actually become a ‘memorial’ to the Guardian himself. Mr Ioas had been appointed by the Guardian to represent him at that conference which, for political reasons, had to be held in two cities: Djakarta and Singapore – Mr Ioas had attended the one held in Djakarta and many friends from the region were there. He related there a story which had a personal ring to it, as I had also been on pilgrimage at the time. He spoke of answering the doorbell of the Western Pilgrim House and finding an elderly, shabbily-dressed gentleman there, and was about to send him around to the kitchen door where the household often provided some relief to the poor, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did during His days, when he introduced himself as a pilgrim.
Somewhat troubled – as Leroy Ioas himself told the story – he let him in and took him to the room where he was to sleep for the period of pilgrimage. On the way, to express his feelings of concern, he said to the visitor that he would be meeting that evening with Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Faith, and he hoped the visitor had brought clothing suitable for the occasion. The old gentleman grinned and said, “Yes, I have my best suit,” indicating the clothes he was wearing. Still troubled, Mr Ioas said nothing further but took him to the room and told him he would be called shortly for dinner.
As was the custom in those days, the arriving pilgrim was ushered into the dining room first, to be greeted by the Guardian alone and seated by him, then the other pilgrims and member of the household would file in and take their seats. On this evening, as Leroy Ioas went into the dining-room, he said the Guardian looked directly at him and said: “This man is a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh; he will sit on my right hand.” Mr Ioas said he felt so small, like a 5-cent piece – the comment had been directed at him and he well knew that the Guardian knew what he thought and how he felt. But, he said, the Guardian judged people quite differently from the way we judge: this man was one of the heroes of the Ten Year Crusade and Shoghi Effendi judged him totally by what he had done, not by his outer appearance or how he was dressed but simply by his service to the Cause. He said that had been a great lesson to him.
This incident occurred while I was on pilgrimage but not in Haifa that evening – the pilgrims used to spend two nights in the Mansion at Bahji, and so I was away, but for the next two evenings I watch in amazement while Charles Dunning, pioneer to Shetland Islands, told the Guardian what he should do and how he should run the Faith – and the Guardian loved it, and him.
On another occasion I was photographing around the Archives building, which was then nearing completion – they were placing the green tiles on its roof – and Mr Ioas was there, personally directing the work, as he often did. I wanted to take his photo with the building in the background but he firmly declined; he was wearing overalls and workman’s boots, quite suitable for the situation he was in, but he said it would be quite inappropriate for him, as a Hand of the Cause and member of the International Bahá’í Council, to be photographed in that attire. He had that sense of propriety, which I respected, and felt it would not be ‘proper’ for such a photograph to be taken and passed on for posterity. And I knew he was not in any way thinking of his own personal dignity, but the dignity of the Faith that he would be seen as representing.
That he had learned from the Guardian; he told us that he was once making arrangements for the Guardian to attend a gathering of dignitaries in Jerusalem, and the Guardian had asked him to inquire where he would be sitting. His inquiries revealed that Shoghi Effendi would be sitting with other heads of religious factions, one of many sects that are part of the Israeli community, but not with the principal religious leaders such as the Mufti of Jerusalem or the Patriarch of the Christian church. Shoghi Effendi declined to attend; he said that it was inappropriate for the Guardian of the Faith to be there unless he were granted the dignity that his position called for. And it was the Guardian, as an institution, not as a person, that he had in mind.
On another day I was invited to attend the funeral of an early believer in 'Akká, and Mr Ioas drove another pilgrim and I to 'Akká in the large black American motorcar that he had had shipped to Israel so that his Guardian would have transport worthy of his station. We had joined the family members and other mourners at some point in 'Akká and then followed the funeral cortege through the alleyways of old 'Akká. I remember thinking that these were possibly the same stones that Bahá’u’lláh and the members of His family had walked on after their release from imprisonment. And just ahead of us was the large and imposing figure of Mr Ioas, walking slowly along. It seemed very appropriate in that situation for him to be towering head and shoulders above the rest, as that was a role he had played in the American community for so many years and later in the world community. His life of devotion to the Guardian was a visible example and guidance to us all.
I was also able to observe him at the Guardian’s dinner table where the business of the International Bahá’í Council was conducted. Many times the queries from the Guardian related to things that had needed to be done, to missions that he had entrusted to Mr Ioas. And generally his response was of missions accomplished, of tasks completed – he always seemed ready for the Guardian’s queries, anticipating what he was requesting, whatever he needed. His efficiency was obvious, his joy at being able to report on work done was evident. I doubt that any head of state ever had a more efficient right-hand man. And generally there was some sense of urgency, most of the tasks had to be carried out speedily.
On one evening when Mr Ioas had joined the pilgrims in the sitting area – usually Sylvia Ioas was there, but Mr Ioas only occasionally, as he used to walk the Guardian across Haparsim Street to his home after dinner, and generally went back to his office to carry out some urgent task – he told us that he had once been sent by the Guardian to Jerusalem to meet with a government official, something to do with land and, knowing the Guardian himself always acted immediately on whatever was on his mind, and greatly valued the same proficiency in others, he had made an appointment the night he arrived and rose early to meet with the official so that he could send good news to the Guardian without delay. Hardly had he dressed when the phone in his room rang; it was the Guardian wondering what he had been able to achieve! Such was the urgency which drove the Guardian’s thinking and acting, and it was only someone with the vast organising ability that Leroy Ioas had who could serve successful as a ‘tool’ in the hand of the Guardian. And this was all that Mr Ioas ever sought to be – someone, something the Guardian could use to execute his plans. And whenever he spoke about things that had been accomplished, goals that had been achieved, it was always something his “beloved Guardian” had done, never his own doing. His part was only that of a servant.
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