Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 27, 1995

The Way I See It: 
Celebrating Mr. Peabody's Bicentennial

Anne Garside
Special to The Gazette

     I had the thrill of attending the memorial service for
George Peabody that took place at noon, on Thursday, Nov. 16, in
Westminster Abbey, London. Over 1,600 invited guests filled the
abbey almost to capacity. 

     I arrived early with my camera outside the Great West Door
of the abbey to watch people come in. There were hundreds of
tenants from Peabody Trust housing in London, Britain's largest
nonprofit housing association, established by Peabody in 1862 to
provide affordable housing for the poor in almost every borough
of London. Similar to, but much larger than, James Rouse's
Enterprise Foundation, the trust currently houses 27,000 people
in 14,000 units.

     "We wouldn't miss this for the world!" Sandra Hussey, who
lives in the Peabody Cottages in southeast London, cheerfully
told me. She had come with a friend and her three small children. 

     American accents mingled with BBC English and pure Cockney.
Representatives of the institutions George Peabody had founded in
America and descendants of the Peabody family had crossed the
Atlantic to be part of the celebration. U.S. Ambassador Admiral
William Crowe came to read a stirring lesson from the Old
Testament. Lords and ladies, bishops and baronets, members of 
Parliament, and top executives from J.P. Morgan and Morgan
Grenfell swelled the crowd.

     The conservatory had sent organist Donald Sutherland and his
wife, soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, to perform as part of the
service. Peabody director Bob Sirota was also present, musically
speaking, since Donald played one of his compositions, Festival
Prelude on "Now Thank We All Our God," on the abbey's magnificent
organ. Peabody Advisory Council chairman Jacques Schlenger and
his wife, Suzanne, planned their annual visit to London around
the Nov. 16 event.

     The day was overcast with the occasional squall of rain, but
there were brilliant splashes of scarlet on the grass around the
abbey from the poppies planted in the Field of Remembrance, this
being the week that Britain celebrated its war dead. The previous
Saturday, the whole country had observed a two-minute silence on
the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the original
time of the armistice in 1918.

     This meant that the Lord Mayor's Parade, scheduled to start
off promptly at 11 a.m. that morning, waited for two minutes,
before commencing its three-mile route through the city of
London.  The Peabody Trust had a float in the parade, with about
50 of its tenants marching behind in various costumes of the past
50 years, including many WWII uniforms and the famous "pearly"
costumes of London's East End.  "Hard on the soles but good for
the soul," punned one Peabody Trust staffer.

     In this general climate of remembrance, what better week to
hold a memorial service for George Peabody?  

     As a long procession of clergymen, in vestments that glowed
brilliantly against gray walls, wended their way up the nave,
they paused at the memorial stone that marks where George Peabody
was first buried in the abbey. A very young resident of the
Peabody Housing Estate at Bethnal Green, 9-year-old Joleigh
Brown, laid a posy of flowers there.

     The dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Michael Mayne,
began by reminding us of Peabody's "work for social justice among
the marginalized and outcast; his interest in and promotion of
the arts and sciences; and his valiant attempts through the
provision of education and housing to secure dignity, purpose and
quality of life for all."  

     The words struck responsive chords, as did the music.
Phyllis Bryn-Julson's voice floated in the upper reaches of the
abbey in Mozart's "Laudate Dominum," soaring above the choir with
an otherworldly beauty. At the reception afterward, Ambassador
Crowe came to a rolling halt before Phyllis to thank her with
obviously genuine warmth. 

     We also sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Later in the
day, over a pint of beer, Don Sutherland told me of a slight
kerfuffle in the organ loft.  "Just prior to the hymn being
sung," he related, "we discovered that the version in the
Anglican prayer book did not have the American tempi. So while
the sermon was in progress, I had to hurriedly teach the choir
how to sing it with the American rhythms."

     The service was followed by receptions in two locations due
to the numbers attending. We went round the corner to the Atrium
to eat miniature fish-and-chips wrapped in newspaper. Amid much
happy commingling, all agreed that rather than memorializing a
great man born 200 years ago, we were celebrating his living
legacy, in every enterprise from housing the poor to providing
the spiritual uplift of great music. 

     Looking back, the week in London was full of news:
remembrance commemorations, the state opening of Parliament by
the Queen, the Beatles reunion, the Queen Mum's hip operation
and, at week's end, the shattering revelation of Princess Di's
Panorama interview. But the Times of London got things in the
right order of priority by giving the George Peabody Memorial
Service a prominent place in its "Weekly Happenings" column. For
those who were in Westminster Abbey, George definitely stole the

Anne Garside is director of public affairs at the Peabody
Conservatory of Music.

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