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March, 1998

Nancy Pocock, Friend of Refugees, 1910 - 1998

On March 4, 1998, Nancy Pocock, a Canadian Quaker who helped an untold number refugees come to Canada, died in Toronto at the age of 87. Her Memorial Meeting was held at Friends House, 60 Lowther Avenue, Toronto on Sunday, March 8.

Remembering Nancy Pocock:


Nancy Meek Pocock

Oct. 24, 1910 - Mar. 4, 1998

Nancy Meek Pocock was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 24, 1910 where she lived with her mother Dorothea, father Theophile and younger brother Ted. In 1920, Nancy's father, an ordained minister and theological scholar, was offered an appointment at the Univerity of Toronto. And so the family moved to Canada, where, as Nancy was later to say, "her real life began."

Growing up in Toronto, Nancy attended Central Technical High School and later the Ontario College of Art, then known as "The Grange". After graduating from OCA and taking advantage of the fact that her dad went to work for a time in the Middle East, Nancy, accompanied by her mother, spent close to a year living in Paris and studying the art of jewellery making. Upon her return to Toronto, Nancy first opened her own jewellery studio on Gerrard Street, near Bay, in the area then known as the Gerrard Street Village. It was during this period in her life that she met and fell in love with Jack Pocock. Jack shared Nancy's passion for jewellery and the arts and in 1942 they were married. It was soon after that Jack was sent overseas to fight fascism. In Europe he was injured and returned home to Canada in 1944 only weeks before the birth of their daughter Judy. Nancy often told the story of the great snow storm that blanketed Toronto on the day she gave birth and how people "skied down Yonge Street."

In 1950, while still living on Gerrary Street, Nancy and Jack joined the Toronto Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a decision that would shape much of the rest of their lives. Nancy and Jack were active in and outside of the Monthly Meeting. In the late 1960s, they moved to a house on Hazelton Avenue.

It was here that they first opened their home to draft dodgers and deserters coming to Canada rather than fighting with the U.S. forces in Vietnam. Nancy and Jack's commitment to helping end the way by sheltering many, both from Vietnam and the U.S., continued throughout the years of the Vietnam War. There are many Americans and Vietnamese whose first Canadian home was with Jack, Nancy and Judy.

In February, 1975, only months before the end of the Vietnam War, Nancy suffered a great loss when her husband and partner in work and in life, Jack Pocock, died. From that day forward, Nancy Pocock devoted her life to helping others. Most important was her work on behalf of refugees from Latin and Central American and indeed all over the world. Her home - now on Elgin Avenue - became a beacon and a refuge for many. Nancy continued this work thoughout her life, working for refugees right up until the end. Even as she lay on a stretcher in the crowded emergency department, she helped to write a letter seeking support for the refugee programme.

Nancy Pocock's name and work are known and remembered around the world. She was invited to Vietnam on five different occasions, the first while the war was still on. Today a medical clinic in Vietnam bears her name and she was awarded the Medal of Friendship from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1978. She received many other awards and recognitions, including the Pearson Peace Prize in 1987, an Honourary Doctorate of Divinity from Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario) in 1990, and the Order of Ontario in 1992. It was a special treat in 1992 when she received a personal phone call on her birthday from the Premier of Ontario, Bob Rae.

To Canadians and others, hers was a constant voice in raising consciousness on social issues since the 1960s as a member of the Quaker Relief Committee welcoming American Vietnam War resisters, as an organizers of protests against nuclear missiles, as a founding member of the Voice of Women, the peace centre run by Canadian Friends Service Committee on Grindstone Island from 1962 to 1973, and as co-ordinator of the Toronto Refugee Affairs Council.

To refugees reaching Canada poor and homeless, she will always be remembered as "Mama Nancy", the woman who opened her heart and her home to them. Mama Nancy died on Wednesday, March 4th, 1998, at 4:30 p.m., surrounded by family and friends from many countries. Her life and her memory will serve as an inspiration to others and as a sign of hope for future generations.


A personal memory of Nancy

by Carl Stieren

Nancy Pocock, a Toronto Quaker who helped an untold number refugees come to Canada, died March 4, 1998, at the age of 87. On Sunday, March 8, I joined 300 others at her Memorial Meeting at Friends House, 60 Lowther Avenue. There were refugees there from El Salvador, Viet Nam, Iran, Cambodia, and former U.S. draft resisters, all mourning the death of "Mama Nancy". Among those attending her memorial in Toronto, and her burial beside the historic Yonge Street Meeting House in Newmarket, Ontario, were the Vietnamese Ambassador to Canada, Dinh Thi Minh Huyen, and Judy Darcy, the head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the largest union in Canada.

In 1982, when I began my five-year term as Co-ordinator of Canadian Friends Service Committee at Friends House, 60 Lowther Avenue, in Toronto, Nancy had already started helping Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees to come to Canada. And it wasn't just material aid they received. Nancy's house on Elgin Avenue, a block from Friends House, was a second home to many of them, and every Thursday evening, the meeting house would reverberate with song, as the Salvandoran refugee organization met there, hosted by Toronto Quakers, led by Nancy.



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