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Muriel Ball-Duckworth (1908-2009)

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medium_duckworth.jpgOn Saturday, August 22, 2009, at La Providence Hospital in Magog, Muriel Ball Duckworth, died peacefully, at the age of 100, surrounded by her children. Mrs. Duckworth had fallen and broken her leg shortly after arriving in Austin for her annual summer visit. She was a descendent of Nicholas and Phebe Austin, the founder of Bolton Township. The following is drawn from an interview conducted in July 2008, by the cultural committee of Austin, recounting moments from a life well-lived.

Muriel Helena Ball was born in Austin (then called East Bolton), in October 1908, on the family farm on Nicholas Austin Road, overlooking Lake Memphremagog. Attending her birth was the renowned Dr. George Austin Bowen. Farming life was difficult. To make ends meet, her father sold lightening rods, among other things, and her mother took in summer boarders and made jams and pickles to sell. Life in Austin was spartan but happy. As a girl, Mrs. Duckworth loved nature. She remained very attached to her birthplace throughout her life and came back here to spend her summers. “We didn’t have many toys,” she recalled of her childhood, “just a few dolls, but we did have dogs and cats and the world of nature!”

In December 1917, the family moved to Magog, crossing the ice in a horse-drawn sleigh, warmed by buffalo hides, with warmed bricks for their feet. Mrs. Duckworth’s mother continued to take in summer boarders and she opened a tea room. She tells how her mother’s china cupboards were filled with books, rather than china, the beginnings of the public library that she and other women from Austin founded.

Mrs. Duckworth received her arts degree (with a major in French and Economics), took courses in education in Montreal, then continued her studies in theology in New York City. She was a committed social activist. Early in her life, she was an advocate for the poor and a pacifist, opposing the Second World War, through the Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan. She and her husband Jack settled in Halifax in 1947 where she worked in adult education. She was a strong feminist and pacifist throughout her life. In 1960, she was a founding member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. She was an activist in the New Democratic Party but only after stepping down as the president of Voice of women, because she felt it was important that the organization remain non-partisan. She refused to pay the part of her income taxes that went to military spending, which led to a court appearance in 1989.

Mrs. Duckworth was honoured many times for her activism on behalf of social justice. She was the recipient of the Governor General’s award in 1981, Companion of the Order of Canada in 1983 and the Lester B. Pearson medal for peace in 1991. She also received honorary degrees, from Concordia in 1983 and McGill in 1984 among others. Mrs. Duckworth was, to the end of her life, lucid and attentive to others. She believed intensely in life and loved children deeply. In the summer of 2008, she interrupted her interview with the cultural committee to express her joy in the children playing in Lake Memphremagog.

In the summer of 2009, looking ahead to her 101 th birthday, the cultural committee had a birthday card signed by some 200 Austin citizens. The card was given to her a few days before her death in the hospital. She read it with interest, stopping to look particularly at the two pages illustrated with the notes and words of children who attended the summer day camp.

Muriel Ball Duckworth was a most respected citizen of Austin, Quebec, Canada and the world. May she rest in peace.