Friday, March 18, 2016

MUM: The Courage, Conscience, and Compassion of Barbara Reynolds, 1915-1990

I asked her once why she was nicknamed Mum.

"You called me that," she said, "when you were little."

Mum (Barbara Leonard Reynolds) came a long way in her 74 years. You'd never think that someone born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who died in Wilmington, Ohio, had traveled so far and had so many adventures in the meantime. She went around the world three times, sailed with our family in the Phoenix to protest nuclear testing in the American testing zone in the Pacific and Soviet testing in the U.S.S.R. With son Ted and yachtsman Nick Mikami she sailed the 30-ton ship from the Marshall Islands back to Honolulu against the wind. (Photo below shows three generations: Mum's mother Minetta, Mum and me, examining her calloused hands when she reached port after the 60-day trip.)

She had  lived in Hiroshima over 20 years, founded the World Friendship Center there, been made an honorary citizen of the city and in 2011 had a monument to her dedicated posthumously in Hiroshima's Peace Park, their Ground Zero.

Mum also came a long way from spoiled only child to a woman of such generosity that she devoted her life to helping victims and refugees of war. By her death, most people considered her a saint. She regularly visited survivors of the first atomic bomb in the Hiroshima A-Bomb Hospital to assure them of God's love. She taught those who could not get or keep jobs because of discrimination against their ugly scars and frequent radiation-related illnesses to make handcrafts she could take to the States and sell for them.
She deliberately lived under the poverty level so she could identify with the people she helped.

Twice, she accompanied survivors (hibakusha) around the world as they shared their personal experiences of the horror of nuclear war and appealed for disarmament, so that no one anywhere would have to suffer what they had suffered.

She adopted Hiro Hanabusa, a boy orphaned by the atomic bomb, even arranging a marriage for him with the young woman he loved. Hiro became a dental surgeon on the island of Shikoku. Hiro, an only child, and Atsuko have seven children.

Without sponsorship or steady income Mum moved to Long Beach, California and for ten years met traumatized refugees from the killing fields of Cambodia, helping them settle into what they hoped would be a temporary homeland. She helped them learn English, find jobs, housing, schools for their children. When one family knowing no English had to face the death of their mother, she filled out paperwork for the burial and even loaned them her own lipstick to touch up the face of the corpse.

After petitioning Congress for eight years to let a Vietnamese friend, Mai Thanh Dao, leave Communist-held Saigon (Ho Chi MInhville) with half-American orphans whose lives were at risk, Mum welcomed the four of them to the U.S. and took them to live with her in her own one-bedroom apartment.

When she moved back to Ohio, Mum set up the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio, to house the largest collection of materials in Japanese and English on Hiroshima, Nagasaki and nuclear war in the United States. At the same time she advertised in the local paper, "Grandmother far from children willing to babysit children far from grandmother." Lonely mothers flocked to her with children needing a grandma's love. For all these things, she won a WonderWoman Award in 1984.

She was my mother, my toughest editor, my biggest fan and my "funnest" friend. The compliment I treasure most was from a friend who said I am just like her. I hope I can live up to that. She went home to Jesus in 1990 and every day I look forward with anticipation to seeing her again.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

She was, in all forms of the word, a gentlewoman, & so full of compassion. The small time i had with her was always precious. Thank you for sharing her. :)