The week began with the sad news of the death of William Zuill, former Executive Director of the Bermuda National Trust and one of the founding fathers of the international National Trust movement. I searched through the files on my computer and wrote a posting for the INTO website that night. Since then, I’ve had a more detailed look in our paper files, where I rather lost myself in nostalgia …
Leafing through a buff-coloured cardboard file on the 1989 International Conference of National Trusts, hosted by Bermuda, I was firstly struck by the meticulous record keeping – incoming letters, faxes, internal memos, carbon copies of outgoing letters; and the names topping and tailing these – Jennifer Jenkins, Angus Stirling, Leslie McCracken (then Chairman, Director-General and Deputy Secretary of the National Trust here respectively) – and colleagues around the world including William Zuill of course but also Lester Borley (Scotland), Rodney Davidson (Australia) and Henry Fraser, amongst others. Quite a list!
And then there was the praise for the warm welcome afforded by the Bermuda National Trust – possibly even too generous and hospitable for some who were keen to be worked harder! And lastly affirmation of all that we stand for. Angus Stirling’s note of the conference emphasised the “common purpose which binds us together, notwithstanding the wide differences of age, culture, size, constitution and funding”. There were also some tips for future conferences which he believed should:
Sir Angus also mentions the desire “for more continuous and effective machinery to be established in order to share among the trust movement up to date advice on ‘best practice’, policy statements, scientific research papers and consultancy” …. The INTO Knowledge Base contains many of these – check it out! (And if you have anything to share, do please pass it along!)
The last paper to be filed was a clipping from the Bermuda Sun of December 1, 1989, which is transcribed below. In all, some happy memories and good advice gleaned from delving through these papers. Maybe one day I’ll write (edit?) a history of the International Conference of National Trusts …
A treasure worthy of our Trust by Colin Benbow
Since its inception some 20 years ago, the Bermuda National Trust has developed into a powerful agency for good in our community. Two weeks back it reinforced its position by playing host to more than 60 delegates from Trusts in 21 countries around the world. Blessed with unusually fine weather for this time of year, the visitors interspersed their business meetings with a walk, a visit to Nonsuch, tours of the island and home hospitality. Everyone seemed to love the place; many were impressed with the outstanding progress that our local Trust had made, while the number of volunteers helping out struck some as ‘fantastic’.
From their regional meetings came the idea of a regional conference for Caribbean Trusts, to be held in Nassau next year. Various islands like Antigua, Barbados the Bahamas, Tortola and Cayman had sent delegates and some of these fledgling Trusts were clearly anxious to learn more about fundraising, lobbying and general administration from their host.
If regional cohesion can lead to greater clout when it comes to saving things of historical interest, then this idea has distinct merit. The next Congress, scheduled for New Zeeland in 1992, promised to consider internationalisation of the movement, “which will mean” says Dennis Sherwin, president of the Bermuda Trust, “that when we go to the public, we’ll be seen as representing something not only small and local but something worldwide”. [NB The 3rd Conference of Caribbean National Trusts and Preservation Societies will be held in Curacao from 16-18 November 2017.]
My wife and I had been invited to the main house to help entertain some of these people at lunch on the last Sunday. It was to be one of those informal kitchen meals for which our hostess is reasonably famous. In the end, two of the visiting delegates came.
One was Angus Stirling, the Director-General of the English National Trust – where the whole idea had started a century ago. He has over 2,500 paid workers under his wing, a membership of six million [sic!] and a heavy reliance on bequests to maintain some very substantial properties. It was interesting to learn that tiny Bermuda has the largest Trust in the world – “six per cent of the population support us – and that’s right across the board” said Mr Sherwin, with some satisfaction.
The other guest was a grandmotherly type whose name tag announced her as ‘MAY KNOWLES, PERTH WA’. I told her that if we got a shovel and started digging, we’d come out in Perth’s high street. “I’m good with a shovel,” she replied, her eyes lighting up.
Little had escaped this retired school principal during the week. Walking up hill and down dale, disembarking at the non-dock at Nonsuch – nothing had phased her. At some time or other she had spent nine years as secretary to the National Trust of Western Australia. “All I had was a typewriter on a desk in an office corridor”, she said. “Things take time, you know.”
It transpired that Ms Knowles had attended all of the four previous international meetings, paying her own way. “We don’t have money to send delegates, but I’m happy to do it. I enjoy seeing other parts of the world and reporting back.”
After a lunch full of good conversation, some of us piled into a buckboard surrey with the guests for leisurely drive back to the Elbow Beach Hotel via Harbour Road. “What a nice way to travel,” cooed Ms Knowles, taking in the islands of the Sound. “It’s been a grand week, but I’m not sure about getting to New Zealand,” she added wistfully “I’ll be 91 then.”
May Knowles struck me as being a treasure that any National Trust would want to preserve.
National treasures like May Knowles and William Zuill are priceless. We honour and celebrate them. But they would also have been the first people to highlight the importance of engaging younger generations in our movement. More about that another time!
Thanks for reading!