Mary Marsh, General Secretary 1990 - 2017
We are all extremely sorry to announce that our very much respected and loved General Secretary to the UK Committee, Mary Marsh, sadly passed away on 04 October after a short, courageous battle with cancer. She had already advised us that she would be retiring from the Oxford Mission at the end of this year after over 30 years wonderful service to the Oxford Mission.
Mary started in the 1980s by accepting the post of Assistant to the then General Secretary, Graham Newell. Graham had moved the UK office from central London to his home in Romsey, and needed somebody to help with the administration. Mary very rapidly became indispensable, and when Graham retired prematurely due to ill health Mary was on hand and was an ideal choice to take over the reins in 1990. She in turn moved the office to the centre of Romsey, and there it has been ever since.
When Mary started there were still a number of English Fathers and Sisters resident in Kolkata and Barisal, and the Bengali sisterhood Christa Sevika Sangha was just starting under the direction of Mother Susila. Much of Marys work involved arranging the annual furloughs for one or more of the Brethren and Sisters who would spend six months or so in the UK visiting supporters and friends, preaching and addressing gatherings. Fund raising was also still being carried on, with events occurring around the country organised by supporters. Gradually of course, fewer and fewer of the Brethren and Sisters remained in India and Bangladesh and a decision was made eventually that the three remaining English Sisters would return to their homeland. Mary found them a retirement home with the Sisters of The Community of All Hallows in Norfolk, and visited them regularly once they were established there.
Mary realised that it was important to continue the personal contact which the annual furloughs had provided, and began what became a regular series of annual visits to the Mission compounds by herself and Trustees from the UK. She often went with other UK Trustees but also occasionally on her own, and travelled once with her very supportive husband Andy. She built up valuable and loving relationships with many of the people there, particularly Arijeet Roy, who was the administrator at Behala for a number of years, and his wife Kanchan ; with Father James Stephens and his wife Lalita who also served for a period in that role, and especially with Mother Susila, Sister Jharna and all the other CSS sisters in Barisal and Jobarpar. In this way the UK committee and the Mission in India and Bangladesh kept in close contact and a good understanding could be maintained.
It became a tradition at Jobarpar that visitors from the UK would plant a coconut tree at their first visit. Both Marys and Andys trees still stand proudly in the compound.
Mary is a reliable and conscientious administrator and her duties of course included organising the regular meetings of the UK committee. These used to be held in London, but as the committee numbers started to fall and most found London an inconvenient venue, they were transferred to Winchester. For a time the Committee met in the home of John Corrie, the previous chairman, and then Mary found the facility at St Pauls Church who have kindly accommodated us for some years now. Mary always had the paperwork ready on time and took the minutes, but she also undertook to provide the sandwiches to sustain the Committees deliberations. These became a very much anticipated and appreciated part of the meetings!
Mary has been the mainstay of the Mission throughout her long service. Things might have been very different had she not been around to keep the office going and to maintain the support for the work overseas. The Committee are actively considering how to proceed in her absence. It will be difficult if not impossible to replace her so there may well be changes ahead, but the main objective will be to ensure that the great Oxford Mission tradition in India and Bangladesh continues for as long as possible.
Simon J. Ling
Chairman UK Committee