|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 28, 1996
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
You met all these world leaders when you were General [but] you also met some spiritual world leaders too, didn't you? You had a meeting with the Pope?
Ah yes, not actually when I was the General, but I had met the Pope previously, when I was Territorial Commander in Scotland. And that was very interesting because it was Pope's first visit to Great Britain and, in fact, I think the first visit of a Pope to Scotland since John Knox had separated from the Roman Catholic church. And there was a lot of discussion as to whether, you know, the Scottish Church would actually receive the Pope but in the end the head of the Church of Scotland agreed to meet the Pope himself. And of all places, they met under the statue of John Knox himself. But the Cardinal of Scotland, Cardinal Gray, invited all the church leaders in Scotland to come and meet His Holiness the Pope in a private room at the Cardinal's home. And I was very pleased that they included me, even though I was a woman leader of a church. So on that occasion I greeted the Pope and amongst the things he said was to greet my brothers and sisters in the Salvation Army. Actually, I had greeted the Pope with a handshake, and then I gave him the Salvation Army salute, which is one finger pointing towards God. And the next day in the British press there were quite large photographs of myself and the Pope. There was the interest first of all that I was the only woman in the group. And underneath was the caption, 'Commissioner Burrows making a feminine point with His Holiness the Pope.' Anyway, several Salvationists, including a retired General, General Coutts, wrote to the newspaper and said they were quite incorrect. I wasn't making a feminine point that way, I was giving the Salvation Army salute, and explaining its meaning.
I did meet Billy Graham when he came during my Generalship to do one of his great crusades in Britain. That was lovely because I met him privately before one of his meetings. He asked to see me. And when we'd been having a talk about evangelism in the world he then asked me to pray for him as he went in, once again, to preach. Even though the greatest evangelist really the world has ever known yet there was, you know, a trepidation before he went out to deliver the word. And he said, 'Oh I would be so grateful if you would pray that I would be able to give God's message tonight.'
But I did have a great privilege of meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta and I love to remember that because we spent about half an hour together. She's a little birdlike creature. And she came in and she hadn't been very well actually. But she said she wanted to see me and we worked very co-operatively with Mother Teresa, and especially in the feeding program in Calcutta. And we talked together. And you know, when I meet world leaders, I'm particularly concentrating on the conversation. But I'm very keen to remember what they said. So usually I get too interested to remember everything, so my secretary was always with me and she would copy down things that people said. And one thing that Mother Teresa said that I think is wonderful, I'd had the temerity to ask her, you know, how did she cope with all the praise she got around the world and really the adulation (because the whole world knows and loves Mother Teresa and praises her). And she looked at me and in that very heavily accented English that she has, she said, 'Oh it matters nothing at all, nothing at all.' And then she sort of paused and -- 'But one thing I've done, I think is very important. I've helped people to talk to the poor and not just about the poor.' I think that's a wonderful statement, that the poor are people, they're not just an en masse troublesome sector of the world population. That she's helped people to talk to the poor, because they are people, they are individuals, they do need our concern. Rather than just about them in some kind of objective distant way.
There's been some criticism of Mother Teresa and her work, on the basis that she's not really tackling the underlying problems, which are structural and political, but simply ameliorating the effects of those underlying problems. What do you feel about that yourself?
I think that was ridiculous, really, because it's again another one of these investigative journalists who feel that they often must say something detrimental about some much loved figure. Mother Teresa is not really in the business of advocacy. I mean, there are plenty of people to do that advocacy, going to the parliament, challenging the politicians. And Mother Teresa's called to do that ministry of love and compassion, which is Christ-like really, and I don't think she's the kind of person to do that kind of work, which the journalist is challenging her about. Why doesn't he do it? I mean, why doesn't he stand up and challenge the world about poverty? Instead of challenging Mother Teresa, he should be going to the parliament himself and challenging. Why doesn't he go and live in Calcutta amongst the people who are suffering, and then he'd have something to say. Mother Teresa is not a Gandhi. She's not a political figure, but I think she's a figure on the world stage who is a symbol of compassion and love, the kind of things we should all do. The kind of things people admire the Salvation Army for. And actually when people give us money in Salvation Army, they're really saying, 'We'd like to be doing what you're doing, but we can't do it, be we'd like to help you do it.' And in actual fact, Mother Teresa did say to me, she said, that she was doing this ministry of compassion. She said, 'People say I'm doing a wonderful humanitarian social work. No, I'm not. All I'm doing is demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ.' And then she said, 'And that's what you're doing in the Salvation Army.' Which I treasured very much.
A lot of people will only give money to the Salvation Army. People often say, 'I don't give to charity, but I do give to the Salvation Army.' Why do you think that's the case?
Well, I think it's because people trust us, the Salvation Army. They also think we're a charity that doesn't spend all its money on overheads. You know, even in America a couple of years ago, Fortune Magazine did a study of 100 charities, and the Salvation Army came out top. In those who spend least on administration and most on program. People know that Salvation Army workers don't get the kind of salary that other people do. So I think there's a great trust. And I also think that another thing is many people have been touched in some way by the Salvation Army. Either some relative or some friend or somebody has been in touch with the Salvation Army. Perhaps in the bushfires, perhaps when there's been a gas explosion in a place and the Salvation Army has been there to help. Or floods. Or perhaps a relative has … [INTERRUPTION]
Do you think there's any other reason for the Salvation Army's popularity?
What I was really meaning too, about people in the family who may have been helped …
That's what I wanted you to say again. Because we missed the start ... I'll give you a question. Do you think that people feel warmly towards the Salvation Army for reasons other than just the fact that they trust them?
Yes, I do, because I think we are in all sorts of areas and very often somebody in the family's been helped, maybe in the bushfires or during a time of floods, or when a gas main explodes, and Salvation Army always comes to help and be of assistance. And really I think this happens everywhere in the world. I mean I can give you an example. Once in Scotland, for example, I was opening a new building and the Mayor of the city was there. When we had a cup of tea after the event, the Mayor said, 'Oh, I've always had a great respect for the Salvation Army' and he comes out with a story. 'My brother, when he was a teenager, he ran away to London and we were all so upset and in the end the Salvation Army had found him sleeping in a station and got in touch with us and brought him back home.' And I said, 'Oh, what happened to your brother?' 'Oh,' he said, 'you'd be quite interested to know, he's now a professor of theology.' But there are lots of stories and I've had them told to me in so many places, because the Salvation Army is involved with lots of people. And the other thing is, too, I feel that people believe that we spend as little as possible on administration.
Occasionally there is a scandal where a Salvation Army officer or somebody involved in the Salvation Army does something, absconds with money or misuses it. How do you handle that?
Well, it happens so rarely that when it happens it really becomes a big issue. I remember once it happening in a place where I was working, and I said to the newspaper people, you know, 'If a Salvation Army man steals some money you put big headlines "Salvationist steals this money.'' You don't say Methodist steals, Baptist steals, Roman Catholic steals. Why do you say Salvation Army man steals?' 'Oh,' they said, 'we don't expect it from you.' So that, yes, it usually becomes, you know, quite an interesting headline in the popular press. So you have to try and deal with it honestly and with accountability.
When it happens, does it affect the way people give? Or do people ignore it and think, no, this isn't really the Salvation Army?
No, it doesn't affect the way people give very much. I think people understand that sometimes there can turn up a bad penny in any lot at all. Certainly it didn't affect our work here in Australia when there was a man who was supposed to have misappropriated funds from our collection of furniture, and so forth like that. And in Britain, before I retired as General in office, we had a big financial crisis for the British Salvation Army. The very group that I'd given the opportunity to run their own affairs, they got into financial difficulties, because they had invested money in what turned out to be a fraudulent enterprise, one of these fake rollover schemes, and so they lost about eight million dollars through several fraudsters. So we had the press down on us like hounds, of course. And many people questioned the Salvation Army's wisdom in investment of its funds. So we had to do an action where we explained how we looked after funds and how this had happened and how it was something that had happened to many corporations, let alone the Salvation Army. But we came under the scrutiny of what is called the Charity Commissioners in Britain, who oversight all charities and we invited them to come in and look at our methods of investment policy, and we have taken their advice. And now we have brought onto our investment board, qualified people who are not necessarily officers of the Salvation Army, and who need not necessarily be Salvationists, so that we have got the very best advice. However that story turned out wonderfully well, because we got all our money back from the crooks and we got it back with interest, and we got it back plus lawyers' fees. So then the press had a great heyday. And they said, 'The Salvation Army should change the band around their caps and have the heading "The Lord looks after his own.''' Because apparently the journalists in the business section of the press had never heard of money actually being brought back to the original source, with interest. And apparently many corporations who get cheated in this way never reveal it because they just hide it in their figures. But we were open about it, so the Lord blessed us by sending it all back again.
You were saying that the Salvation Army is very careful to make sure that it doesn't spend too much money on administration, and that people work on low salaries. But you have taken steps to improve the conditions in which your officers live. And people live reasonably comfortably, don't they? You yourself live reasonably comfortably. How do you work out at what pitch you should live?
Well, once upon a time they would take the salary of a working man and that would be the salary of a Salvation Army officer, but it would be that we provide a home for people and a salary enough for them to live on. So that, for example, if an officer has children he would get more salary than an officer who doesn't have children. And even when I was the General, many Salvationists would have had more money than I had, because they were married with a family. So that I think normally we'd say there should be an element of sacrifice, in that you don't have money, it's not your own home, it's not your house that you're building up for the future. So one thing we have tried to do is to see if we could provide accommodation for the clergy, our officers, when they retire. And so we have tried to build small two-bedroom units or something like that, into which they can go in retirement, so that they don't have the trauma of not having a place to live when they retire, because they will have to move out of whatever accommodation the Salvation Army has provided for them through the years. But I think we all come to accept the fact that we are not here in order to make money, but that we are here to serve and give our life in service. And if our provisions are enough for living then that's all we expect.
Most Generals serve for five years, you served for seven. Why was that? Why were you extended?
Well, some years ago there came the introduction of a new method, so that a General could be extended. This order and regulation, we call it, says that towards the end of the five-year period, if the leaders of the Salvation Army vote for the General to stay on, then the General can be asked to extend up to three years. And actually that happened in my case. There has to be at least seven world leaders who send the nominating letter and then, by secret ballot around the world, ballots are then [sent] to our lawyer. Then you find out whether they've voted you to stay in or not. And I was virtually unanimously asked to extend, and I often joke and say the first time I was elected it was on my potential. The second time I was elected was on my performance. But I said I thought two years would be adequate to complete some of the tasks, especially the return to former Soviet countries, so that I didn't leave some of those things hanging for my successor. So I felt that seven years would see my work completed.
Why was it that your term was extended from five years to seven years?
Well, it's a new regulation in the Salvation Army, fairly new, that a General could be extended beyond five years if the other leaders of the world felt you were doing a good job. So that they asked me would I be prepared to stay on. They then took a vote around the world. I'm glad to tell you it was almost unanimous, asking me to continue. I could have continued for three years, but I said no, two's enough. I think I'll be able to complete the work that we'd started in regard to Russia and also the restructuring to see how it worked through. So I also said seven is a sort of holy number, in The Bible it's the perfect number. So I thought, that's enough, and therefore when I retired I was not reluctant to retire.
So you had a unanimous vote from around the world. Was there any criticism of your extension from anybody?
No, not at all. I'm not sure of the vote, but it was virtually unanimous. There may have been one or two who didn't vote for me and I often jokingly say, when I was first elected, I was elected on my potential, and the second time I was elected on my performance. I think the leaders around the world were pleased that I'd tackled that administrative query of many years old and that I was doing something about Eastern Europe.
Now, I understand that it's the custom in the Salvation Army to give each General a name that sort of sums up their particular style of leadership. What was your name?
Well, I have been called the People's General, probably because of my intense interest in people. Yes, it's an interesting thing, they've often spoken about each General with almost one phrase. General Orsborn, for example, was a wonderful writer of hymns, poems. He was called the Poet General. General Coutts was a great scholar and thinker, theologian, so we called him the Scholar General. I don't think they'd ever call me the Scholar General, but the People's General was a title that I loved, really. And one of the things people smilingly say about me [is] that, for example, if I was in some part of the world and we were having a great congress or convention, then I would stand and people who would want to come and greet me were allowed to do that. And the queue would be out through the door, and I would stand there maybe an hour or so, greeting people. It was important to them that they had actually met the General and looked into your eyes and felt, you know, part of this great, international Salvation Army.
Did you travel a lot while you were the General?
Yes, very much so, because the General has really a threefold role. First of all you're the spiritual head of a church, a denomination, to preach the gospel, inspire your people to follow the Christian faith. Secondly you're an administrator, you are in charge of this great international organisation involved in social programs in the Third World. You also have to see that we have funding provided for that work. And then thirdly, you are the head of the world family of the Salvation Army, so you have to be visible, and therefore you travel the world a great deal, conducting meetings, looking at our work, reviewing our work, discussing our work. So I would say about half my time I was travelling. I travelled more than a million miles by air in that time.
Did you go back to some of the places that you'd served in before?
Oh, that was great thrill, yes. I went to Zimbabwe when they were having the centenary. It was a hundred years since the Salvation Army had moved to what was then Rhodesia so that was a tremendous thrill for me because there were special events in the cathedrals, and also right out in the open air, celebrating a hundred years since we actually came into that area … [INTERRUPTION]
Did you go back to any of the countries that you'd been in before you became General?
Oh yes, of course. And that was very exciting, particularly when I went back to Zimbabwe, because the Salvation Army was to celebrate a hundred years since our first wagon had rolled in to Salisbury from South Africa. In fact, the Salvation Army was in Rhodesia right at the very beginning. And the first white child born in Rhodesia was the child of Salvation Army missionaries. So we were going to have great celebrations, meetings in the cathedrals in Harare and Bulawayo. But one special celebration was phenomenal. We had invited the black Salvation Army band from Brazzaville in the Congo and we had a choir, a black choir from Soweto in South Africa, and then we had all our own musicians in Zimbabwe. And we had invited President Mr Mugabe to come and be there. And when he came in and saw this great crowd of about 6,000 Salvationists, and he came and sat down and listened to this music he kept saying to me, 'Oh, isn't that marvellous.' And he would be translating the Zulu from the Soweto songs, because he'd been educated also in South Africa. And then it was his time to speak. And he gave an amazing speech. And he said quite definitively that the government of Zimbabwe valued very much the work of the church. He said, 'A newly independent country needs two things -- discipline and strong moral values. And who gives that but the home and the church. Look at all of us politicians who were freedom fighters. Where were we educated? We were educated in the missions. So don't be afraid. I will support the church.' And then he revealed the many Salvationists who he had been friendly with over the years, and he announced with great pleasure that the national anthem of Zimbabwe was written by a Salvationist poet. So the Salvationists were so exuberant we could hardly keep them down for days. But the whole church in Zimbabwe was delighted, because that was time when Mr Mugabe spoke out on behalf of the church, so that my visit had a lot of value for the area. And of course, I met so many of my former students. That was great too.
And back at head office, you had this responsibility for running the organisation and, as you say, the administrative side. In that leadership of people who were organising and running the Salvation Army, you must have encountered the same sorts of problems that any chief executive of a large organisation does, with people who perhaps weren't doing their job as well as they might and so on. How did you go about that business of leading the team that were themselves leaders?
Well, there are many similarities with the heads of great corporations. But there's a big difference, and that is we are all people whose first motivation is to do God's will, and to build up the Kingdom of God through evangelistic endeavours and through social and community programs. So when we sit around the table, we're not looking just to promote our own ideas, nor are we ambitious in the sense of wanting to take the seat of somebody else. We don't have any stabs in the back in the Salvation Army.
Is that really true? Nobody?
No, it's true.
Nobody coveted your job or wanted to -- it was really absent? I mean I'm asking you to be really honest. These people really weren't behaving the way managers in other organisations behaved?
No, I can look you straight in the eye and say no. No, because there is this awareness that a General's position is a divine appointment. And even though [there may be] members, mostly I would think men, who may think [he's] got the gifts to be the General, he knows he can only be the General by going through the High Council and prayer and concern for what God wants. So that if his ambition is very secular, very human, he probably knows he'll never get it anyway. So there is a great deal of co-operation. And the other advantage is that I called my style of leadership 'consensus in the spirit' because every time we had a meeting we would pray and ask that God would guide us, give us wisdom and discernment. And that the Holy Spirit would lead us, and therefore we were seeking, not just our own views, but what God would provide for us to find as best for the Salvation Army. If people were inefficient, that's a different matter. Then you would have to move them. You would be able to talk to them, discuss the reason why they were not filling the job effectively. And then provide another assignment for them. And that goes right down through the levels of the Salvation Army. Because a General doesn't decide on everyone. The General decides on the key positions, rather like the Archbishops of the world or the Cardinals of the world. The General appoints the Territorial Commander and the Chief Secretary, the two top positions of every nation where we work, every territory. But whereas in the early days it was done by William Booth himself, now the General has what is called the Advisory Council. And I have a certain constitution, and therefore I would have to, if I was deciding to appoint somebody, send it before the Advisory Council and if they said from their experience they knew more about this person than I did, he is not suitable, then I would take their advice. So I had help in my decision-making.
If a person were inefficient as a result of not having the appropriate abilities for the job, then you'd find them a job that they were more capable of doing. What if it was because they weren't applying themselves properly?
I think the only thing there is discussion, counselling and help. The Salvation Army, like business organisations, have evaluation systems. So the evaluation would have gone on much lower down, but when it comes to a top level, I would think that the General would, in a visit to that person, when I would be travelling around the world, would discuss what I felt was lacking in what that person was doing. Which is very difficult. But I've always felt myself that I've benefited [from people having] told me things where I had fallen short of the mark. And therefore I've found that most of the Salvation Army leaders are anxious to do well and to develop the Kingdom of God, so they're listening. Yes, I've had some occasions like that. Not easy.
[end of tape]