Shirley Farlinger: Friend of Peace, Earth, Justice, and People

By Phyllis Creighton | 2013-04-01 12:00:00

I miss Shirley—her presence and charm, her laughter and wit, her thoughtfulness and spirit. Over three decades she touched people in the women’s movement, peace and environmental causes, university and business circles. Especially to Voice of Women (VOW), Science for Peace (SfP), Pugwash, Peace Magazine (PM), the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH), and Bloor St United and Trinity-St Paul’s churches, she brought vision, purpose, creativity, and friendship. Our hearts echo PM’s Metta Spencer: “How can we manage without her?”

Shirley was born in Toronto on 24 Jan. 1930. Her father, Al Tabb, served in World War I and shed tears at World War II. She grew up in North Toronto, attended Lawrence Park Collegiate, enjoyed Sunday dinners at her grandparents’ home. “Laughing together on Sundays is a family tradition,” she said in a short account of her life. She had fun at a cottage in Muskoka, and later at a Georgian Bay summer camp where the girls put on plays and sang. At 17 she posed for a fashion magazine cover and Yousuf Karsh’s lovely portrait of her is still hanging in the Ottawa Chateau Laurier. First in her family at university, at 20 she had a BA. Marriage at 21 to Bill Farlinger, who would be a prominent chartered accountant, brought five talented children, motherhood in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, and then a lovely Rosedale home. They travelled widely—“I have seen so many of the wonders of the world,” she enthused. Greenham Common with the women’s camp resisting its missile base and Crete with its “evidence of a gender equal, prosperous society” made strong impressions.

In the 1990s, with Derek Paul, her partner throughout the last twenty years of her life, Shirley went to Bradford in England and its university peace program, Costa Rica and its peace university and, with a VOW friend, Austria and peace studies under Johan Galtung. All this fed her spirit, love of art and Earth, awareness of interconnected issues, and commitment to peace, justice, women’s equality, and Earth.

A spirited peace worker

Working on children’s resources for the United Church of Canada (UCC) in the late ’70s had led her to study journalism at Ryerson University. Peace became her focus in the Cold War, so she served on the UCC Peacemaking Fund. In A Million for Peace (1995), she tells the story of the many church and community peace projects created through the $1 million that this fund enabled to be spent. The initiatives, which reached a million people across Canada, come alive in her fine social history. Her opening and closing chapters on the state of the world in 1984 and 1995 are perceptive. Small wonder she was in the Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament’s consultative group in the 1980s and one of three citizens on Toronto’s International Year of Peace Committee in 1986, overseeing its $50,000 budget.

Shirley was a doer. She was one of the million marching for disarmament in New York streets in 1982. With a small UCC group in 1987 she built houses for Habitat for Humanity in Nicaragua and returned there as an election monitor in 1989. She ran for the Green Party in the 1984 federal election and for the NDP in 1988 to sink Minister of National Defence Perrin Beatty’s nuclear submarine plans. Chair of the World Federalist and UN Association local branches, Shirley was elected first woman president of Toronto-Eglinton Rotary Club. Active for years in the Canadian Federation of University Women, she was also president of the University Women’s Club of Toronto. Her work in the IICPH with Rosalie Bertell, whose books on radioactivity and on Planet Earth she vigorously promoted, was important to her. The interdisciplinary Evolution of World Order Conferences at Ryerson University (1997-2002) benefited from her help and participation. Sustainability educator Julia Morton-Marr says Shirley, with her strong personality, supported and challenged others to achieve her own high standards.

Shirley brought people together at gatherings in her home. There they met with Canadian and world leaders such as Newton R. Bowles, Sir Peter Ustinov, Douglas Roche, Murray Thomson. Her “salons” energized us and our causes. As an imaginative SfP board member, she held board meetings with a swim in her outdoor pool—or a fund-raising auction. “Her generosity was as legendary as her kindness,” as Metta says.

Her prolific writing

Shirley wrote many engaging articles for Peace Magazine, of which she was an editor from 1985 to 1998. Its online archives list 73 (with titles and dates). Her “Letters from?” numerous places told of peace initiatives and publications. Her accounts of leading figures and their work bring them to life. A voracious reader, she penned book reviews that reveal the authors, substance, and ideas for action. Her accounts of the 1985 Halifax VOW conference and May 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace show her amazing ability to listen, grasp key ideas, and cover complex events. The SfP Bulletin (of which she was editor for at least three years) has other memorable pieces (also online).

Shirley’s published works and manuscripts (to be in University of Toronto archives) total at least 350. Some 140 letters to the editors of well-known newspapers, especially the Toronto Star, were published. She was an interesting poet and playwright. Poems I Give to You (1977) offers delicious whimsy (“2-4-D” a foretaste of her later witty climate change note cards), political insight (“Viet Nam”), and wisdom. In His and Her Verses (2009), which includes Derek Paul’s poems, “Guantanamo” and “Mordechai Vanunu,” reveal her passion for justice, human rights, and truth, her cry against nuclear weapons and war. “Three Blind men” (Powell, Rumsfeld, and Cheney) satirizes folly in a ditty.

Where There’s a Will: A Comedy in Two Acts (2012), a drama for social change, urges: “May all of us seek out the connections we need to make to the natural world and to each other as we struggle to save our space on the planet, our home.” The 1325 Key to Peace: a Comedy in One Act is about UN Security Council resolution 1325, which sets out women’s right to participate in the work of conflict prevention and resolution. Performed for VOW, Pugwash, and church audiences, it shows how women’s bent for getting the facts and for negotiating will transform the quest for peace.

Shirley’s well-crafted chapter on “Human rights and gender equity” in the SfP book United Nations Reform: Looking Ahead After Fifty Years (1995) had sketched women’s marginalized position in the UN and victimization in the world economy and wars. Her recommendations for the UN included setting 40 per cent as the minimum level for both genders’ participation in its bodies; effectively promoting women’s rights; establishing a new code of conduct for multinationals; catalyzing a new international economic order, and setting care of Earth as the UN’s purpose.

When Shirley’s dozen-year struggle against ovarian cancer neared the end, she told a friend: “I have done all I wanted to do with my life, especially all I could do for peace and the environment.” Thanking her nearest and dearest for their care, she died at 82 on 18 Dec. 2012. Bless Shirley for all she gave us!

Phyllis Creighton and Shirley worked together for decades as two Toronto activists.

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2013

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2013, page 27. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Phyllis Creighton here

Peace Magazine homepage