Margaret Dehqani-Tafti

by
09 December 2016

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John Clark writes:

MARGARET DEHQANI-TAFTI, who died on 22 October, aged 85, was the wife of the late Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, the first Iranian Bishop of the episcopal diocese of Iran. She came to public prominence in October 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, when assassins attempted to kill her husband in the early hours of one morning. She flung herself across him and was shot in the hand, while the other four bullets that were fired formed a semi-circle “halo” in the pillow around his head.

The youngest of three sisters, she was born in Iran to missionary parents, William and Margaret Thompson. The Second World War prevented her returning to England for education; so she stayed in Iran until the last years of secondary school, and thus began a deep and enduring relationship with the country in its culture, language, and people.

Hers were parents with foresight; for they did not stand in her way when, aged only 18, she wanted to marry Hassan, a priest of the diocese of Iran, and 12 years her senior. Many others thought it unwise, and there was definitely a sort of colonial opposition to their union. But Margaret had met her life partner, and, although she spent some time in England training to be a nurse, that was cut short when, at the time of the oil crisis in 1952, she returned to marry in Iran.

In 1961, her husband succeeded William Thompson as Bishop, and Margaret, a fluent Persian speaker, provided practical and emotional support, both for their family of four children, and for his gifted but demanding ministry in Iran; and, from 1976, also as the first President Bishop of the newly formed Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The events of 1979 cut their time in Iran short; for, after the attempt on his life, he was advised at a meeting of the Communion’s Primates not to return to Iran, but to minister from outside the country to the diocese and province.

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Margaret, however, returned to Iran, where their children were still living, until their only son, Bahram, was brutally murdered in May 1980. She had to identify his body, and attend to his funeral, at which she spoke movingly, and arrange his burial.

With her husband, she built a new life in England. After initial uncertainty, they settled in Basingstoke, in the diocese of Winchester, where Bishop John V. Taylor made Hassan an Assistant Bishop, able to continue his ministry for Iran from exile until retirement.

They worked tirelessly, building relationships with Persians in England and in the diocese. She was the driver to his many engagements, in the diocese and more widely — and travelled with him during the rest of his time as President Bishop in the Middle East. As an accomplished cook, she provided delicious Persian meals for their many visitors and local friends.

From their home, Margaret managed the publication, sales, and distribution of the more than 30 books in Persian which were published under the imprint Sohrab Books, in which the Bishop related the Christian faith to the religion, culture, and context of Iran.

In 2005, they moved to Oakham, to be close to their youngest daughter and son-in-law (the Vicar of Oakham). They soon became valued members of the parish-church congregation and wider community. Her ministry of hospitality, encouragement, and friendship continued after her husband’s death in 2008.

Margaret faced significant health issues in her last five years with great courage and resilience, and just before her death was able to express her pleasure that her youngest daughter, the Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, had been appointed a non-residentiary Canon of Peterborough Cathedral.

More than 200 attended her funeral in Oakham, including many Iranian Christians. Memorial services were held by the small Episcopal Church congregations in Esfahan, Shiraz, and Tehran. She was buried beside her husband in Paradise — the burial place of the Bishops and Deans of Winchester in the cathedral grounds.

Three daughters, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren survive her.

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