“LIVES OF GREAT ONES ALL REMIND US, WE CAN MAKE OUR LIVES SUBLIME; AND DEPARTING LEAVE BEHIND US, FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME.”
In her beautiful book, Silhouettes Against the Snow, Grace Petrasek devoted the first chapter to Laura McArthur. Although it was written some time before Laura’s death, it is an eloquent tribute to one who, in a very special way and in a unique area of modern life, has left indelible footprints behind her. And at Laura’s Funeral Mass in the Church of the Annunciation, her always supportive and sincere friend, Gwen Landolt, brought tears to the eyes of her listeners as she expressed the sentiments of everybody present with a touching account of Laura’s tremendous contribution to the Right to Life Movement in Canada. Almost everything that could or should be said about Laura seems to have been expressed by others who were closer to her than I and so I shall confine myself to my personal relations with Laura in her defence of the Unborn.
Surprise and Shock
In 1971 I came to Canada, almost directly from Kenya, East Africa, where I had worked as a missionary for thirty years. Most of those years had been spent in what was known as “The Bush” by the Europeans who had settled in the Country. Judged by our modern standards, the areas in which I worked would have been considered “primitive” and “unsophisticated.” But, in all those years I never heard of an abortion. The people were of the Kikuyu tribe and their family life was solid and traditional. Babies were valued as the future of the tribe and to kill a baby- born or unborn- would have been considered a crime against the tribe itself. Of course I knew that abortions were being performed in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, where the white man had come with his “modern” methods of social progress. But not out in the areas which were pejoratively known as “The Bush.”
Coming from such a background it is easy to understand how surprised and shocked I was to find that in this great country of Canada, abortion was accepted and condoned even in “ the best social circles:” and that the lives of unborn babies were rated on a par with those of the animals.
First Meeting Laura
It took some time to “absorb” the situation, and having done so, I wondered what I could do about it. Enquiries eventually led me to the office of the “ Right to Life Association,” the President of which was Mrs. Laura McArthur. It was impossible to meet this lady and not be immediately impressed by the power of her personality, the clarity of her intelligence and the breadth of her vision. Added to these qualities was her obvious refusal to compromise to even the minutest degree when the value and the sacredness of human life was at stake. Laura was a born leader and to :lock horns” with her- which I did on a few occasions- was a formidable experience.
Laura the Administrator
I cannot recollect all the circumstances which followed my joining the Right to Life Association, but I soon found myself a member of the Board of Directors and also a member of the Speakers’ Bureau. Laura was the Chairperson of the directors’ meetings and she ran them with an efficiency and decisiveness which would have done credit to the President of the United Nations. She was always up to date with the most recent developments relative to pro- or anti-life scene and, although she listened to other views, her opinions were usually so logical and forceful that they were the ones which prevailed.
Laura The speaker
I think that it was in her capacity as a public speaker that Laura had the greatest impact. I accompanied her on a few occasions and at least once had the honour of introducing her to an audience. By her very presence, she commanded attention. I once told her , after a speech, that she reminded me of her great namesake, General McArthur. She didn’t seem to consider it a compliment- unless to the General- so I crossed it off my list of casual remarks! Laura could take on any audience, a pro-life or anti-life. She never lost her “ cool” and her replies to questions or objections were lucid, logical and uncompromising. Event hose who were adamantly opposed to her views on abortion treated her with respect and not a little caution.
Laura the wife and mother
About thirty-six years ago, Laura Murphy was joined in marriage with William (Bill) McArthur. As I did not know them until years later, I shall quote from Grace Petrasek’s book. “The children, now grown, are Anita ( a mother of two daughters) Tim, Mark and Mike. When Laura was 42 she had a surprise pregnancy and almost died of complications while giving birth to Mike. She wonders if abortion would have been suggested today because of her serious health problems and shudders at the thought when she looks at her bright, healthy six-foot-two son, Mike, now 22. Her experience would deeply impress on her how precious and precarious human life is.” During Laura’s illness I often met Bill and all the members of the family and was impressed by their obvious unity and love for their dying mother.
Laura the patient
Laura resigned as President of Toronto Right to Life in November 1990. A banquet was held at the Four Seasons Hotel at which over 200 of her pro-life admirers gathered to express their appreciation for her great contribution to “The Cause.” But all were silently shocked at the change that had taken place in Laura. Although she tried to be her gracious self, it was obvious that her days were numbered, and the cancer from which it was rumored she suffered had begun to take its toll. Laura clung to life for another eighteen months, suffering in silent patience and gradually fading into a shadow of her former self. She still had something for which to live. It was the wedding of her son Mark to his beautiful Wanda. Laura attended the ceremony in the Annunciation church. Less than two weeks later we gathered in the same church for the Funeral Mass. Laura was “ Laura” to the end!
I cannot conclude without saying a word about Laura’s husband, Bill. It was my great privilege to take Holy communion to Laura almost daily during the last few weeks of her life. If “commitment” can be translated as “love” I saw love at its highest and best. From the time Laura became confined to bed, Bill was at her side, first in the hospital and then in their home. My daily schedule prevented me from keeping to fixed time for visiting Laura. Sometimes it was early in the morning, sometimes late at night. But Bill was always there- and Laura knew it. Am I reading too much into them id of God when I attach significance to these two facts? Laura finally closed her eyes on Passion Sunday. Three days later we laid her to rest in the Cemetery of the Resurrection.