|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 27, 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.
It was while you were in Australia that you attended another High Council to elect the next General. Had you been aware that a number of people, for some time, had been watching you and thinking about you as a possibility for that role?
Well, they didn't tell me, certainly. But I knew that, for example, General Brown, who was no longer an influence actually, had felt that I had the capabilities of being a General.
How did you know that?
How did he know that?
How did you know? Had he told you?
Ah, not in so many words. He'd never once said, 'I think you'll be the General' although he once hinted to my housekeeper that there was a possibility that one day I might be the General. But I think that other people had often said [it] to me, even when I was in Sri Lanka. We had a group of businessmen who advised and helped us. We called them the Advisory Board, and the Chairman of our Advisory Board was a prominent businessman in Sri Lanka, and when I had my farewell and goodbyes he, you know, he publicly proclaimed, 'Well perhaps we'll see our Commissioner one day returning as the General of the Salvation Army.' So people had said that. And I think that my wide experience in the Third World and the fact that I was proving that I could hold leadership of a Western country, and an extensive territory like Australia, that would have made people think I was a possible contender for the Generalship.
So when you went off to that High Council, what was in your own mind?
Well, in my mind, it was that I had already been to two High Councils. I knew the whole set up. I knew the facts that what emerged from the High Council was really God's will for the Salvation Army, because everyone who goes takes this matter very seriously and very spiritually, because what they want above all else is to elect the person who is God's choice for the movement. So that you don't get lobbying as you might in any political sphere, or even a business sphere, when people are competing for the top chairmanship of something or other. I was never lobbied to vote for anybody at any of those three High Councils. And I would say that that is true of those situations in the Salvation Army. So I knew that I was going to spend considerable time in prayerful contemplation as to who would be the most suitable person. I had an awareness that it was likely that I would be nominated, no question about that. I hadn't been told so much by people, except they may have hinted that, 'You're likely to be nominated.' So I went with that fact, but I didn't go with anything prepared. You know, if you are nominated for the Generalship, normally you have to answer great list of questions about the Salvation Army's motivation and purpose in the world. And then you have to give a speech. So I did not sit and sort of say, 'What will I answer if we get this kind of question?' Or 'what will my speech be?' I never prepared a speech. Some nominees may have thought of it before, but they would never give any indication that they'd prepared the speech before they arrived. No, I think we accepted the fact that if we were nominated it was at the High Council that we would be ready to answer and to prepare our material.
And so, this is really like a kind of grand audition that takes place in which people have to make up their minds on the basis of how people perform on the day …
Not entirely, no. Because in the Salvation Army internationally the leaders get to know each other quite well. We have fairly regular international conferences of leaders. And so you see each other, you meet in discussion, you make your observations of people. Salvation Army's a very closely knit organisation internationally. So that you would naturally know quite a lot about the other members of the group before you go there.
How many people were nominated at the Grand Council that made you General?
I can't remember the exact number that were nominated, but there were seven who accepted. And it was quite an interesting occasion because it was the first time that we had had a non-Westerner nominated. That was an Indian leader, Manam Samuel, whom I knew well from my time in Sri Lanka and whom I admired very much. And it was the first time that a member of the High Council who didn't have the highest rank was nominated, and that was a Colonel; Colonel Wesley Harris was nominated. So that there were quite a few interesting factors and, of course, I was nominated and I don't think there'd been a nomination of a woman for any years since about 1930 or something like that.
In fact there'd only been one woman General before you.
Correct, yes. And that was 50 years before. That was Eva Booth, sometimes called Evangeline Booth, the daughter of our founder, William Booth. And she actually became the General when she was 69 year of age. In those days the General remained in office 'til 73. And she concluded her time about … just as the war started in 1939. And you know, I was very young. I was 56. So I know that many members of High Council would have thought, 'Well, if she's going to be the General, we'll wait 'til next time' which would probably be five years later. And that would be more like the age that we've had as a General. So some of them would have thought I was a big young.
And did you get up the first time, or were there several rounds before you...
In the procedures for the High Council, which are very carefully devised by the actual High Council itself -- each High Council is autonomous. But you have the procedures from previous High Councils, so you normally discuss your methods of procedure on the basis of what's happened before. Under our constitution, the ballot goes on three times when you get -- you have to get two-thirds majority. So the sooner you get two-thirds majority, then you are the General. Or after the third ballot, it's then by simple majority. So no, I didn't go in right at the beginning. It often happens that the General doesn't get in the first time. I can remember once that happened when there were only two who accepted nomination, and it was quite clear who the person was. So no, I didn't get nominated right at the beginning. I think there were those who perhaps thought, 'Well, it's not quite her time to go in.' But I must have had a good number of supporters.
And how did you get on with your speech?
Well, I really had a difficult time. The President of the Council, who's elected by the group, we'd spent already quite a number of days and I think he wanted us to get on with the election. And we really didn't have much time to prepare our speeches and all these answers, because it's a very strict rule that you have to have your answers and your speech in writing. And you must keep to that speech, because you go and speak in front of the whole group and the other nominees are present. And if you hear something from one nominee that you'd like to add to yours you can't do it, because you must keep strictly to your text which is in front of the President. So to prepare that needs, you need, some good time. But I was already past midnight now and I was still preparing my speech. And I was preparing a speech about what I thought would be the most productive administration of the Salvation Army from the international headquarters and the international leader, when I had a strange awareness this wasn't the most important thing. That it was not just whether the General was a good administrator or not. But whether the General was leading in the style of our great model, Jesus Christ himself. And then suddenly I had this awareness and I wrote a speech very quickly, which seemed to me to you know, be an inspirational thing that came from above, if you like. And I prepared a speech on the style of the leadership of Jesus Christ, and it wasn't a long speech. Only about -- I'm not sure --15-20 minutes. And when I finished it I felt very much at peace about it. And I pointed out that Jesus Christ was a pastor and a prophet and a priest. A pastor in his love for people, care for the disadvantaged, and his compassion. And a prophet, he declared so many things that were against what society thought were important, that he had a prophetic voice and spoke not only of the future, but he challenged people about the present. And then he was a priest standing for the people, praying to God for the people. And he's still our priest, we read in The Bible that he intercedes for us at the right hand of God. So I -- these things came to me. And so I felt very happy, because I was speaking about a quality of leadership that was non-secular and that it was in line with what a spiritual leader should be.
And how did you feel when you realised that you had in fact … [INTERRUPTION] … What did you feel when you realised that it was in fact you who had been selected?
Well, I felt a great sense of awe I think. That's my first emotion. That this great and honoured position was coming to me. I felt a great sense of awe before God, because I knew that I could only do this work if his wisdom and guidance and discernment became my portion also. I think I also felt it as a phenomenal challenge to me. Then I had a great sense of gratitude to God. Because I thanked him for the wide experience of the past -- African, Asian, social, evangelistic -- the kind of background experience that would help me to understand the Salvation Army internationally quickly. And I suppose I thought of my mother and my father and, of course, they had long since died and many in the family said perhaps they're looking over the battlements of Heaven. And I didn't think that, but I felt something of my mother in me. My father too, but my mother very much so. So I think it was gratitude to them for having brought me into this environment where now I was able to put into effect some of the deep convictions that I had.
Did you feel very sad that they weren't there to see it?
Yes, I was sad about that. In fact, there were several things that my parents missed in my life and one was when I was ordained in London. They were not able to afford to come to see my ordination. They never came to Africa, much as I encouraged them to come, partly because they said they couldn't afford it but I think also that it was so strange and foreign to them. So I think they missed a lot, but they did have a great deal of joy in seeing me be an officer, because of the nine children that they had, I was the only one who actually entered the Salvation Army and became ordained. Other members of the family are members of the Salvation Army, but I'm the only one who actually, in that sense, followed in their footsteps.
How did the rest of the world react to the fact that here was the first woman leader of a major church movement that we'd had for a long, long time?
I think there was great pleasure around the world. Actually, you know, at the headquarters -- the world headquarters of the Salvation Army, is in London and the General is elected at this place outside of London, in Sunbury Court on the Thames River. So back at the headquarters, they're longing to know who's going to be the next General, who's going to come and actually work at the headquarters. And so as soon as the General is elected, the General in office [is] informed who the General designate is, and then almost the first in the world to hear are the people who are called to come to our hall, in our [headquarters] building and they're all sitting in this hall, waiting to hear who the new General is. And I have since heard that when my name was announced there was a great cheer. So much so that it was heard on the top floor for a people who hadn't come down to the meeting. So that was a good sign, that I was to -- I was well accepted by the people with whom I was going to work closely. And I was well accepted by my fellow leaders, because even though some had not voted for me, immediately when you're elected, you come to the podium and every one of those leaders comes and shakes your hand and they stand far enough from each other that they can't hear what each other says. And every one assured me of total and absolute support and loyalty in my leadership. So even those who may not have voted for me, they accepted the fact that my election was a God-appointed task. And when you become the General and you find out how demanding the role is, what you are required to be responsible for and how you've got to keep up to date and keep on your toes and keep well and keep moving around the world, you know, you wouldn't do the job unless you really felt that there was some kind of divine power behind it.
Given that you'd already had a heart attack, was there concern about your health?
I was asked about my health. Yes. And I explained truthfully what had happened since my heart attack. And that I had now worked in Australia, which had very great demands upon me, especially for travelling, because I'd travelled to -- from Melbourne to Darwin and Perth and Tasmania; all over the place. So I'd had a lot of travelling, and I'd recently been in Indonesia on a 12-day campaign which was very demanding and exhausting. So that I'd told them that I didn't have any medication or angina. So I gave them a full account. They could have asked for a medical report, but they did not. They took my word for it. Proved I was right.
Now, faced with this task, did you feel at all daunted?
Yes, I felt daunted, but I also felt a strong sense of confidence from the fact that if you emerge from the High Council as the General, you do sense that it's by divine appointment and not just of man's choosing.
But you were about to run what was, in effect, an absolutely huge multinational corporation, with all the administrative, financial responsibilities of that, as well as those of spiritual leadership. Did you feel that you were really well prepared, in a secular way, for the task?
Well, no, if you would ask me how many management courses I'd been to and how many 'search for excellence' books I'd read, etc, no I hadn't, I hadn't done a lot of that. Although I tried to keep up in reading on management. But in a sense I think I'd come by that time to realised that I instinctively had an ability to organise and administer. And I think that gave me confidence that I'd already done it in three territories of the world and not everybody gets that privilege in the Salvation Army. Quite often you come to leadership later whereas I had had 10 years of leadership -- Sri Lanka, Scotland, Australia. And this had been great preparation. So that I felt -- although the General, the General has the whole world -- that was a good preparation. And I think also that I had got to know our Third World work so well [and] I knew that wouldn't be quite the problem it had been, for example, if an American had been elected who'd never worked anywhere but in America -- he has to get to know the world first. Whereas I knew a great deal about the world.
Was it because of your knowledge of all those other aspects of the international operation of the Salvation Army that led you to that major administrative venture that you took on, of re-organising the Salvation Army under your Generalship so that it was truly international and not something led from England?
Yes, well, I think that's the part that gave me the greatest anxiety. I felt I could deal with the world and the world program and our mission throughout the world, but there'd been a long-standing unease in Britain because the Salvation Army began in England. So that then when it went all round the world, to Europe, Australia, America, those countries sort of set up their own Salvation Army departments and headquarters according to the culture and the laws of those countries, and they were all bound together by their joining with the General in an international global movement. But in Britain, the Salvation Army was really administered from the international headquarters, because that's where we'd begun and that's where our roots were. And for many years they had discussed how you could separate the Salvation Army in the United Kingdom from the international Salvation Army. So that really the international would become global and the Salvation Army in Britain would run its own show like the Australians or Americans did. And I think it had been discussed for three or four decades. And although other Generals had thought they should do something about it, somehow they'd never felt they could. My predecessor had tried to deal with the matter, but he -- at the end of his Generalship had come before he could do anything really. And so I felt I should take this on too. And in fact, at the High Council, in answer to one of the questions, I said I would tackle this. And I knew this was the thing that was going to cause me the greatest mental concern and management challenge. But then we did have a go at it, and managed it in the end.
And how did you do that?
Well, I first chose an officer in quite a high position in the Salvation Army who had, over many years, been very critical of the Salvation Army's structure in Britain. He was a young Turk, we might say in Australia, but now he was the principal of our theological school. And I thought, now, he's had some fine thoughts over all the years about this, so I appointed him to come into the headquarters and to view the whole situation to see what were the areas that we must concentrate on, the legal, the constitutional, the economic and financial was a very big problem because we were so interrelated to the Salvation Army in Britain that our financial work was very difficult to separate. So he was a man of great creative gifts, but also he was a very fine analytic mind. So I, I'd been thinking about whom I could choose. And his name was John Larsen and he came in and for a year or so he investigated the whole situation to see whether some of the things he'd said could happen, really could happen. And then we called in a management consultancy firm. The thing about John Larsen was that he was someone admired and respected, so when he knocked on doors to talk to people about how things might change they were ready to talk to him. So he had talked to a lot of people and got a lot of views. He'd looked into the financial situation, the constitutional situation. Because the Salvation Army constitutionally is rooted in the British Parliament, because that's where we began. So that in many ways he'd done an excellent job and we put forward through him and discussion some things that we thought we could do to change the situation. So then we called in the management consultancy firm and they were very interested. We had several people apply for this task, and we chose a firm, Coopers & Lybrand. And they came in and were very interested, because they'd never actually worked with a charity that was a religion as well. So that we said, 'Here is what we think we could do. What do you think about that from your knowledge and experience?' And one thing I did, which I didn't realise was so wise, but in the end it proved to be wise -- this is one of these intuitive things -- I said to Coopers & Lybrand, you know, 'I don't want you to go out and do and come back with your results. I want to be talking with you all the time so that we can see if you're coming up with things that are quite impossible in the Salvation Army culture we can give you that in understanding.' So that the first day the Coopers & Lybrand people came to give their first presentation I really was very anxious. I was anxious because I wondered if they would catch the true meaning of the Salvation Army, what our true purpose was, which was not just to be a charity. So we're sitting there in the Advisory Council room and the screen went up, and the first transparency came up on the screen: 'Purpose of the Salvation Army -- to lead men and women to Jesus Christ through the following means.' And I just said thank you Lord, very much, you know, they've got, they've got it. And from that time on we had such a positive relationship. And out of that emerged a whole new structure that would help us to launch the Salvation Army in the United Kingdom. We were again very careful to make sure that the Britishers knew everything that was happening. So we kept them fed with information as to how we were getting on. And on the day on which we made the decision we ensured by the British postal system, which was very accurate in those days, that everybody in the Salvation Army who had a position of responsibility received the material at the same day, so that nobody could say, 'I heard this from somebody else.' They all got the outline of the new structure and I was waiting for all those letters of criticism and, you know, 'You made a mess of whole thing.' I never got one.
Well, at least you weren't faced though with the whole question of downsizing, which always seems to be part of a re-organisation. Nobody lost their jobs?
No, in the Salvation Army that's one thing you can't do with a person ordained, just say well you must go or something. So Coopers & Lybrand had to learn that. They had to understand that we were not just like a corporation, where I can say to half a dozen people, you know, that's the end of you, finished. You have got these people working for you. They're ordained to the ministry and if what they're doing is now no longer needed, then you have to deploy them somewhere else. And we're fortunate that we have a wide range of activities where we can deploy people who perhaps don't fit in here; we can put them there. No, it worked out well, but the bonus to me -- I think my first motivation was to give the United Kingdom their freedom, like spread their wings themselves but it actually had a very high bonus in that we structured, restructured the global headquarters of the Salvation Army. We brought in a Resources Department that had not existed before, which could help the whole world to receive information from other parts of the world. Now, for example, in that department we are now on the internet, the world wide web, where the Salvation Army from London tells what we're doing. And there's a big debating forum and all the rest of it. That department is now proving to be an excellent thing for the future.
It's a very modern organisation. A very up-to-date one. Was that something that was there at the beginning of your leadership or did you very much update the place?
I think we were moving in that direction, but I think the restructuring helped people to see that we could move into a modern era. I mean, when we actually called in management consultants, some of our people were a bit worried about that, because that seemed such a secular thing for a spiritual organisation. But I think I was able to help people realise that the church must be well-managed, just as well as anybody else. That God expects us to be efficient and well-organised, to be accountable for our money. And I think people came to realise that the Salvation Army leader has to have this worldly knowledge of how to run an organisation well.
[end of tape]