Canon Michael Bullock OGS writes:
MISS Primrose Peacock, as she preferred her letters to the Church Times to be headed, was a type of Anglican laywoman whose like we may not often see again, and her death diminishes her friends, the Church of England, and the nation of Albania.
I first met Primrose in 1993, in the decayed grandeur of the lounge of the fascist-era, then communist-era, Hotel Dajti in Tirana, the capital of Albania. I was at that time Chaplain in Naples, which was, by the diocese in Europe’s standards, near to Albania; so off I went to this country emerging from the horrors of hard-line Communism. I needed to make such contacts as I could, and Primrose had formed an organisation, the Friends of Albania, and produced a journal with the technology of the time.
Primrose had visited Albania before the fall of Communism and as part of a tightly controlled party, which was the only way in which curiosity could be satisfied. She was never much of a sightseer, but she brought the skills of a journalist and the eyes of a photographer to note the poverty and oppression, often as ridiculous as it was brutal. Her hatred of poverty and love for the poor prevented her being starry-eyed about the regimes that followed the dictatorship. She saw clearly where there were wrongs to be righted and action to be taken. Her last project, in which she secured the help of the Church Times was to send knitted woollen hats to Albania.
She could have achieved more. I think that is what she thought. She knocked on doors (the Apostolic Nuncio to Tirana described her in my hearing as “insistente”; the word is not complimentary), but never seemed to make the right connections. Perhaps only children are not good at networking. Government aid professionals and NGOs largely ignored her; her books of memoirs and reflections, often giving deep insights into the transitional Albania of the 1990s, were self-published.
Primrose was born in 1935 and was adopted by a clergyman and his wife. Growing up in an Evangelical parsonage gave her no affection for Evangelicalism. Her affections were for Anglo-Catholics, Methodists, and Orthodox, more or less in that order, with a wary respect for Roman Catholics when they were effective in doing good. After leaving school, she earned a living by gardening, market trading, photography, and bits of journalism; and, in 1970, she found herself in the antiques business. If Mr Right came along in those days, he didn’t stay.
Primrose returned to England from America to live in the Taunton area. I cannot imagine she would have been an easy parishioner, but I am sure that she would have been a faithful one. She was elected to the diocesan synod of Bath & Wells, and she told me that Bishop George Carey encouraged her to hone her theology, and to study at the University of Exeter. It was after 1991 that her visits to Albania were able to be more frequent.
There is a tradition of brave Englishwomen over the past century and a half (Edith Durham, Margaret Hasluck), easily labelled as eccentrics, who could be said to have fallen in love with Albania. I do not think that Primrose fell in love with the country, but, rather, with its people, especially the poorest of the poor. Rose Macaulay’s Aunt Dot comes to mind. Primrose and I didn’t meet often, but we had kept in touch since the 1990s. I believe that a no-nonsense Christian faith was her constant rock, up to her death, prepared for and accepted, in a nursing home in Truro.
I wonder how Primrose would have reacted to an obituary in the Church Times, for which she not infrequently wrote. Perhaps a part of her would have expected it, another part would have been humbled by it. I dare say there are gifted, perhaps eccentric, women in every parish. We are diminished when they go forth.
Mary Primrose Peacock died on 31 July, aged 86.