Shortly before she died on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, Catherine Huxtable received a written tribute from a medical specialist, Dr. A.T. Jousse, who was intensively studying the problems of the physically disabled. "Unfortunately, you have been faced with a progressive disorder for which the medical profession has nothing really to offer. That in itself is most discouraging, because each year you look forward to less physical activity and the decline is more rapid than that, due to the simple aging process with which we are all faced.
"I have no doubt, however, that your life has been greatly prolonged by your high motivation, and I quite agree with you thai it has been very full. I think your influence has undoubtedly been much greater than that of most humans and much greater than anyone could evaluate ..."
Catherine felt that most of the credit for her full and successful life should have gone to Bahá’u’lláh, Whose teachings will give anyone courage and power to fulfill his dreams. Some of the credit she also ascribed to her husband and to her mother, her "generous, long-suffering helper."
Catherine Rudyard (Heward) Huxtable was born January 6, 1932 at Charlwood House, Charlwood, Surrey, England, to Lt. Col. Stephen A. Heward and Mrs. Helen (Bury) Heward. She moved with her parents on their return to Canada in 1939 and received her primary and secondary education at Havergal College and Bishop Strachan School.
When she was eight or nine years old she was observed to be falling frequently, she was unable to run and only climbed stairs slowly, and she tired easily. At the age of ten, muscular dystrophy was diagnosed. During the next few years, her back and legs weakened and later her arms too were affected. Her mother made arrangements for her to continue school using a routine as normal as possible but without gymnasium or outdoor recreation, and with a necessarily restricted social life. She could still walk, but with a poor sense of balance and frequent falling. However, she was able to attend Girl Guide camps during the summer. Those ten-day adventures living closely in a group with other girls and sleeping in tents or under the stars were memorable for her.
Catherine found it very difficult to accept the fact that she would be crippled. She used a wheelchair when she was fifteen but it took two years for her to accept its regular use as the means by which she could have a fuller, more flexible life. After leaving school at the age of seventeen she made a trip to England with her mother and sister. It showed her that life was far from over and she gained confidence when she realized that people treated her normally and seemed to like her.
Although the Heward family was financially comfortable, Catherine wanted to earn her own living in a useful way. She enrolled in a commercial art course but was unable to finish it because her arms were too weak to draw anywhere but at a desk, depriving her of the freedom of movement she felt essential for an artist. Shortly after giving up the art course, she was successful in obtaining work doing beautiful and delicate petit point pictures and jewelry which enabled her to earn small amounts of her own money.
Using the wheelchair, and assisted by her friends, she was able to enjoy a wider social life. She became interested in the ideas of the Unitarian Fellowship and was elected vice-president of its youth group.
She met her husband to be, Clifford Huxtable, at a university dance which she attended in order to listen to the music and to share the company of people enjoying themselves. Both Clifford and Catherine were strongly attracted to each other. Both were seeking meaning and purpose in their lives and they became drawn together to the Bahá’í teachings. Catherine had become severely troubled by the prospect of becoming bedridden and found comfort and strength in the Bahá’í teachings on the spiritual meaning of tests and difficulties. Clifford and Catherine formally declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh in April, 1952, in the home of John and Audrey Robarts whose teaching activities had been the initial indirect channel for their introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. They were married on May 7, 1955, in her parents' home where they lived for two years. Catherine added to her accomplishments by serving in the administration of the affairs of the Bahá’í Faith in Toronto, when elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly.
In November, 1957, the couple moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, a smaller city on the Canadian prairies, as pioneers. This move initiated an accelerating pace of pioneer service in the face of great obstacles. With the aid of Miss Eileen White who helped with the physical tasks of housekeeping, Clifford and Catherine's first pioneer move, made despite the well meant remonstrances of some friends and relatives, proved successful. They aided the Regina community to develop on a self-sustaining basis. By the time of their departure it had doubled in number and became strong and united.
With confidence born of accomplishment, and in response to the renewed call for believers to enter the pioneer field, Clifford and Catherine left Regina in September, 1959, arriving on the Gulf Islands, off Canada's west coast, in October. It was a source of great joy to them to be filling a goal specifically designated by Shoghi Effendi, the last one he chose. Cliff and Catherine were the first Bahá’ís to reside in the Gulf Islands. To move there they stepped onto a higher plane of determination and sacrifice. Catherine encouraged the move even though it meant her husband's resignation from the security of a professional position in adult education and the outlook for work in the Gulf Islands was not encouraging. Catherine was unable to walk at all even with help, and they had to accept the uncertainty and low pay of unskilled manual labor. Clifford obtained work first making fences on a sheep ranch and then as a deckhand on the ferry boats connecting the islands and the mainland. A year after their arrival he was offered the position of principal of an elementary school and their income became more dependable again. Catherine also worked as a local representative for a firm producing household and children's goods.
Catherine had a warm and sincere interest in everyone she met. Their home was open to all comers even to the sacrifice of her precarious health which required an ordered, settled and tranquil existence. Her dynamic contentment afforded encouragement to others burdened with difficulties. Her illness was turned into a blessing, and her overcoming its limitations, an instrument of attraction.
Within two years of their arrival in the Gulf Islands, a resident of the Islands, the first to do so, accepted the Bahá’í Faith in their home. The first public meeting in the Islands was held in May, 1963. The group had grown to nine by December, and Catherine was elected chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the Gulf Islands when that body was formed in April, 1964.
Though it had been assumed that the bearing of children might be unwise and possibly dangerous for Catherine, a son, Gavin Clifford, was born on June 27, 1962.
Having built the nucleus of the Bahá’í community on the Gulf Islands, Clifford and Catherine responded to the call of The Universal House of Justice in the Nine Year Plan, for Canadian pioneers to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Again facing the uncertainty of insecurity of income, their goal an isolated speck in the ocean on the opposite hemisphere, they sold their house and possessions and set out with their young child, winter approaching, to cross the continent on the first stage of her final odyssey.
Traveling by automobile, trailing a caravan with special fittings for the wheelchair and equipped for overnight stops, the trio spent three months visiting Bahá’í communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. In Montreal they stayed at the Maxwell home, the only Canadian home in which 'Abdu'1-Baha had stayed during his journey to North America. Catherine addressed meetings and a children's class. This part of the journey, made at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly, helped to develop in the Canadian Bahá’í community a heightened awareness of pioneering in preparation for the discharge of that community's widening international responsibilities, anticipated in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. Their journey included a sojourn with her mother.
From Montreal they flew to Dublin, Ireland, and then to London, meeting and inspiring the friends in both centers. They departed from Southampton on March 29, 1966, on the R.M.M.V. Capetown Castle and arrived on St. Helena on April 9, 1966, living in a hotel and then in part of the ground floor of a town house. Four months later Clifford was appointed to a teaching position in the school system of the British colony. Once again their income became more dependable and the position opened to them a small government-owned house.
They were deeply interested in all the people on the island and made many friends from all walks of life. Although Catherine's health was continuing to deteriorate, all who knew her were inspired and cheered by her warmth, keen intelligence, wide interests and courage. She continued to maintain a voluminous correspondence showing in her letters a sensitivity to the individualities of each of her correspondents. She continued to direct household affairs and supervised the care of her son, developing a close affectionate relationship with him.
On St. Helena, as had been the case throughout her life, the medical doctors who attended her went out of their way to ensure that she had the best possible care. However, the illness continued to progress and it became increasingly difficult for her to breathe. A machine was sent by friends from the United States in an attempt to help her respiration. After a few weeks of rapid deterioration of her health, she died in the early morning of October 25, 1967.
Her resting place in the hills of St. Helena is marked with a memorial contributed by Canadian friends and the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.