Friday, 28 September 2007

A Friend Remembered – Miss Floria E. McGlade (b.1915-d.1993)

When I was in first year at Hillhead High School in Glasgow, I often went to my Dad's shop to eat all the chocolates! One day when I arrived for my regular scoff, there was a letter from a Mrs McGlade lying at the side of the cash register. I was immediately struck by the fancy handwriting that reminded me of my English teacher, Miss Small. The letter was addressed to my father and asked him to come and visit her at St Thomas’ Nursing Home in Royston. My father paid little interest as he was too busy but he encouraged me to visit her. My Dad paid for my taxi fare and handed me over a bottle of lucozade and a fruit cake!

Mac, as I knew her, was an interesting woman and a great source of inspiration for me. Floria Elizabeth McGlade was born on 14th March 1915, as far as I know in Glasgow. Mac lived in Afton Street in Glasgow, across from the shop that my Dad owned for 21 years. Mac never married and was trained as a secretary and shorthand typist. Mac worked for Sir Julian Huxley who was the Executive Secretary of the UNESCO preparatory commission and later the first Director of UNESCO. Mac also worked for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a secretary. She had travelled the world, from Ethiopia, Morocco, Turkey, Europe, the stories were superb and riveting. Mac was also a devout Catholic who often spoke to me about her faith. I remember taking her tuna sandwiches and cake most weekends, as she lay on her bed and I sat beside her we chatted for hours. The Nuns were very kind to Mac and often chatted to me about her health.

A friend and I took her to watch Home Alone at the cinema one night and she was all smiles. I still remember how she saved her popcorn for one of her friends who she said would enjoy them more than her. Mac wanted to take me fishing in the Trossachs one weekend and she had planned it all. However, Mac died suddenly a week after our trip to the cinema. She had suffered a massive asthma attack. I still remember her saying to me on the last occasion we met that the medication was no longer working for her. Mac was buried at sea and I was invited to a remembrance service in the Chapel. I read from the Bible, passages I don’t remember but the solemn air that circled the Chapel that day is with me even today. It was quite a moving experience for me. My Mother went with me to the service and my sister bought flowers that we took with us.

Looking back at this brief but special friendship there is much that I learnt. It was not about me being a Muslim and Mac being a Catholic, it was about friendship, compassion and love. We enjoyed each others company and we had many laughs. Mac left me the remainder of her estate after she died with specific instructions it be used for my education. It was with this money that I went to France for a year between 1997/98 to study Arabic. When I came back I began my studies in religious studies and then on to focus particularly on Islam. Funny how things work out and how people influence our lives in the most special of ways. Mac is one of those special angels who touched my life and gave me that head start in understanding the world around me. In my travels to Jerusalem and Rome I have lit candles in remembrance for Mac in Chapels.  I pray that she is enjoying a beautiful garden with all that she could ever want in a place far from this earth. I thought long and hard before posting this personal story on my blog but I wanted to relate a real life example to my previous blog post which will hopefully make us all think about love and friendships beyond just ‘interfaith dialogue’.

The above pictures are of Mac and Me sitting in her room at St. Thomas’s Nursing Home in Royston. I look awful, but still a very special photograph. The other is of Mac and someone she must have been very close to and the last one is of Mac at a young age.  God rest her soul.

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