May 9, 2010

Dr. Genevieve Lenore Coy (1886-1963), second director of the Tarbiyat School for girls in Tihran; "Fortitude, patience, detachment and integrity are the qualities that best describe the life and service of this devoted, highly competent and faithful maidservant of Baha’u’llah." (Borrah Kavelin)


by, Dorothea Morrell Reed

Dr. Genevieve Coy, for more than half a century, served the Baha’i Faith selflessly and unceasingly with distinction in a wide variety of roles, as pioneer, teacher, administrator and author. To have known Genevieve Coy was to have found a confidant and friend, and to have had one's horizon expanded beyond the limitations of self. She was keenly interested in the spiritual capacity within the individual, the creative energy with which the Teachings tell us all men arc endowed, and through her written articles and spoken discourses Dr. Coy endeavoured to bring others to this awareness of their latent capacities..

Before she came into contact with the Baha’i Faith in I911, Dr. Coy composed a poem, "Let Me Know Life", published in the early Baha’i magazine, Star of the West (Vol. XXI. No. 4, July 1930, p.101), of which the editors wrote: “It was as if she had previously reached out subconsciously for truth and had arrived at an attitude of mind and spirit which made the truth of the Baha'i Cause a complete fulfillment of her spiritual aspirations.” One felt that Genevieve Coy's Baha’i service was her grateful response to that fulfillment.

Of the many articles contributed by Dr. Coy to Baha’i publications over the years, none is more precious than the account of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, made between September 1- 8, 1920, in company with Mabel and Sylvia Paine , and Cora Grey. Genevieve recounts this visit in several Issues of Star of the West (Vol. XII, Nos. 10-13, Sept.-Nov. 1921, pp. 163-214) From her touching word portrait of the Mater is derived, too, a portrait of Genevieve Coy:

"It is very difficult to remember much of what of He said. Indeed, it was almost difficult to listen! I wished only to look and look at the beauty of His face! For that was what impressed me first, the exquisite beauty of the Master. It was like the most beautiful picture we have of Him, with life and color added. His is a face of living silver – the wonderful silver of hair and beard, and the blue of His eyes. The side face is majestic and sweet and loving. It was that which we saw most of the time. The full face is more dignified; to me it seemed more awe-inspiring. And yet, when He smiled, it was most exquisitely friendly, and human! But He looked very, very tired …and yet the weariness was not, I think, a weariness of spirit. I cannot tell why I feel that way, partly because He can reach, as no one else can, the infinite sources of spiritual strength.

"I had no desire to speak to the Master; there was nothing that I could say. I do not know what happened in my mind and heart. There was no shock, no surprise, no sadness, no thought of my own faulty past. But I came to understand that for one who has been long in His presence, there can be no desire except to serve Him; that one's life would be happy only as one pleased Him; that one would be sad only as one grieved Him. I felt then that I had begun to learn -- that the will to serve was becoming greater as I had prayed that it might.. ."

In 1921, after- the passing of Miss Lillian Kappes who had served as director of the Tarbiyat School for girls in Tihran, the Master asked whether someone From the American Baha’i community could be sent to Persia to carry on her work. "The Annual Convention of last year (1921) with His confirmation chose Miss Genevieve L. Coy, a specialist in the education of gifted children and teacher of psychology in one of the great State Universities, who this spring look her Ph. D, at Columbia University, New York," states, the account of this incident in Star of the West. “ During the year she has been studying Persian and preparing for her work of reaching English to the children in Tihran. She sailed from New York for Egypt, May 10, 1922. She will stop in the Holy Land on her way to Persia." Under her able directorship the school continued to grow in reputation and stature and became the foremost institution of its kind in Persia. Dr. Coy's description of the Tarbiyat School appeared in an article entitled “Educating the Women of Persia", Star of the West, Vol. XVII, No. 1, April 1926, p. 50.

Upon her return to the United States, Genevieve Coy made a highly effective contribution to the work of the Cause, serving for a number of years on the Spiritual Assembly of New York City. A friend described this period:

"I had the privilege of serving on the Spiritual Assembly at a time when Genevieve was chairman. I was deeply impressed by her sensitivity to others; how she drew out the timid Assembly member and, with loving kindness, subdued the too vocal member. She was never quick in passing judgment but always considered the motives of the individual. It is obvious that her educational background, her training as a doctor of psychology, gave her a deep insight into areas of thought and behaviour with which the average believer was unfamiliar. Her compassionate and warm nature drew many to her for counseling.

"Not only was she a fine administrator, but an outstanding teacher as well. Her own thirst for knowledge was contagious and like thirst rapidly developed in her students. She made any topic so interesting that soon one became fascinated with the Writings on the subject. Early in the Ten Year Crusade I remember that Dr. Coy gathered a large number of believers at the New York Baha'i Centre and had each one Select for study one of the pioneer goals of the Plan. We were asked to go to the public library and return with all the information we could obtain about our particular subject. Genevieve made an adventure of learning. As a result of that research project, many of the participating believers pioneered to distant goals during the Crusade.”

Mr. H. Borrah Kavelin has provided this tribute to Genevieve Coy:

"I have the deepest admiration for Genevieve Coy with whom I was associated in service on the Spiritual Assembly of New York City from 1941 onward. Baha’u’llah has written: 'O Son of Man! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials.’ Fortitude, patience, detachment and integrity are the qualities that best describe the life and service of this devoted, highly competent and faithful maidservant of Baha’u’llah. Suffering for many years from a physical disability which caused her to walk with what must have been a painful limp, Genevieve Coy was always the essence of radiance and serene acceptance of God's Will.

"As a distinguished educator in the field of psychology, she was able to relate herself closely to the Teachings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and His example in dealing with the various problems that came before the Spiritual Assembly in the City of the Covenant, New York. She served on the Assembly for many years and was a tower of strength for all who sought her wise counsel. By nature, she was modest and self-effacing, but in relation to matters affecting the Faith she was a model of courage, conviction and assurance. Although shy, she had a wry sense of humour and was always a pleasant and cheerful companion.

"Her entire life was an example of total dedication to the Faith. Assuredly, her passing was an unqualified passport to the Abha Kingdom where loving arms awaited her arrival.”

A contemporary of Genevieve Coy records :

"Those of us who had the privilege of serving with Dr. Coy at Green Acre Baha'i School of which she was senior administrator and chairman of the program committee, would perhaps single out this contribution as one of her great services to the Faith, if not her greatest. She transformed Green Acre from a vacation place, where people of different religious and philosophical persuasions met, to a school of education. Her experience as principal of the Dalton School in New York City, one of the first progressive schools in the United States, and her deep understanding of the Writings, contributed much to the success of Green Acre during the years she administered it. She was always considerate in her planning of the programs of Green Acre, taking into account the needs of those who were just approaching the Faith and of those confirmed and longstanding believers 'who had read everything'. She found a way of including everyone in the classes and curriculum and, avoiding rigidity, allowed for creativity and exploration. But study one must if he or she were to remain at Green Acre. The school could well be a memorial to Genevieve Coy."

In 1957, Dr. Coy retired from the Dalton School and looked forward to the freedom retirement would bring, but after six months she had had all she wanted of retirement and at the Intercontinental Conference held in Chicago in May 1958, she was one of those who came forward to the platform and volunteered to pioneer to Alaska or Africa. Her physician suggested the warmer climate. She left immediately for Salisbury, Rhodesia. Her concluding years of service were to be performed on a third continent. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rhodesia has written:

"Genevieve Coy came to South Africa as s pioneer very late in her life but was of tremendous service to the Faith during the period she lived here. While in Salisbury she lived at the National Baha'i Centre for a time, enabling many Baha'i friends to benefit from her vast knowledge of and experience in the Faith. She wrote two correspondence courses which were and are in wide use, one on Baha’i History and one on character development entitled 'To Live the Life.'

"Genevieve was a devoted and dedicated soul, serving Baha'u'llah under great physical stress in the last years of her life in Salisbury. She was sadly missed by all when she passed away on July 31, 1963. How fitting that she was laid to rest next to the first African woman to accept the message of Baha’u’llah in Rhodesia!"

Genevieve Coy's life was a rich and faithful exemplification of one of her favourite passages from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha:

"How wonderful it will be when the teachers are faithful, attracted and assured, educated and refined Baha'is, well-grounded in the science of pedagogy and familiar with child psychology; thus they may train the children with the fragrances of God. In the scheme of human life the teacher and his system of teaching plays the most important role, carrying with it the heaviest responsibilities and most subtle influence." (Star of the West, vol. XVII, No. 1, p. 55) (The Baha'i World 1963-1968, pp. 326-328)