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FCNL LEADERSHIP: OLIVE WILSON

February 25, 2010

From its beginnings in 1943, FCNL has been blessed with leadership nurtured by our community of faith, the Religious Society of Friends.  Our leaders have brought spiritual depth, intellectual power, and centered compassion to our work.

Olive Wilson was among those leaders.  She lived and taught public school in Primghar, Iowa.  Olive Wilson died Saturday, February 20th.  She succumbed to cancer at the age of 87, but she didn’t succumb too much of anything else in her life time.

Olive clerked FCNL’s General Committee from 1989 to 1991.  FCNL’s General Committee does the hiring of FCNL’s Executive Secretaries, three of us since 1943.  FCNL appointed me Executive Secretary at its November 1989 Annual Meeting, at which Olive presided, and I started work April 1st, 1990.  So you could say that Olive hired me and was my boss in my first two years at FCNL.  Of course she never bossed me, but she did support and guide me as I was learning FCNL’s approaches to lobbying and to its governance.  I’m thankful for her leadership which, I believe, set me off in the right direction.

Olive was smart and perceptive.  Some may have overlooked those qualities in her or may have been surprised to find them, because she put on no airs, spoke simply, and, by Washington standards, dressed plainly.  She was apt to laugh at herself in public, and her sense of humor helped to temper those of us who might be tempted to take ourselves too seriously.

Her “View Point” article on immigration is a concise gem which reflects her intelligence and compassion.  She opens with these lines,

“We are told that there are about 12-million undocumented Latin Americans in the United States. So what do we propose to do about them?

Our Congressman, Steve King, believes that the solution is to send all of them back “South of the Border” and to build a high fence along that entire border to keep them from coming back.

Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, has said, “Show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder”.”

She closes with this, “… our challenge is to study the realities of present day policies that force human beings to risk dangerous and illegal actions in order to survive.”

Olive learned to quilt in middle age, in 1971. The Alliance for American Quilts interviewed her for their project, “Quilters’ Save Our Stories,” or  Q.S.O.S.  Even in quilting, Olive found her peace witness naturally expressed through political action.  I think this interview conveys how Olive’s spiritual centeredness brought together all aspects of her life.

In the past two years “audacity” has been a much used word in the political venues of the U.S.  What could be more “audacious” than a quilter asking elected government officials to sleep under a handmade peace quilt and then write in a journal what she or he had experienced?  That’s what Olive and her quilter friends did, though.  Olive exercised the force of truth and the power of love through a gentle spirit that embraced all.

About 1693, William Penn wrote,

“The truest end of life, is to know the Life that never ends … For though Death be a Dark Passage, it leads to Immortality … a turning of us over time to eternity …They that love beyond the world, cannot be separated by it … Nor can Spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle …”

We will miss Olive in this life, but we will not be divided from her.  Her spirit will always be present to us.  As our friends from Latin America say, “Olive, presente.”

5 Comments
  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    February 26, 2010 10:02 am

    My gratitude to you for sharing about Olive. What an inspiration to carry on! Blessings to her family. –Ellen Duell

  2. Gretchen Hall permalink
    March 1, 2010 3:35 pm

    Olive touched my life profoundly with her common-sense, straight-forward manner and her way of sharing truth gently. I appreciate Joe’s remembrance and will always be grateful that Olive Wilson’s life intersected with mine starting with FCNL. Gretchen Hall

  3. March 3, 2010 3:19 am

    Olive was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and one of my bosses, too, when I was the part-time staffer for the AFSC project that became the Iowa Peace Network in 1976. I’ve admired her persistence as a steady force for peace ever since. Only recently did she relinquish publishing her Iowa Peace Links Newsletter, her way of getting out “positive stories that don’t seem to get included in the network news reports.” Thanks for your notice of her passing, Joe.

    Dan Clark
    Muscatine, Iowa

  4. Christine permalink
    March 5, 2010 12:21 am

    I’m so sorry to hear of Olive’s passing. I will always remember her kind encouragement to me and the rest of the Office when I was an intern at FCNL. I know that she’ll be missed by many.

  5. May 27, 2010 6:56 am

    I may have posted an article that may seem insensitive. I did not realize we were paying our respects to a recently deceased friend.Please accept my apologies and condolences

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