Bee Beeby, New South Wales Regional Meeting

Nancy Shelley was a long-time and treasured member of the Blue Mountains meeting.  She died in 2011, and after a long and complex process of court determinations, a legacy bequeathed by her to the Quaker community was deemed to be the responsibility of the Blue Mountains local meeting.  I wasn’t part of the many threshing meetings which then took place over the next two years, during which time deep consideration was given to how best to employ this gift in a way that Nancy would have wanted.  I know from other Friends who were involved in that process that at no stage was it hurried, and that it was a process which reflected deeply and listened for the voice of God to help them discern how best to make this generous bequest available for Friends.

Finally, in 2013 the Nancy Shelley Bequest Fund was set up, and guidelines were developed for individuals or organisations who intended to apply to the fund for financial assistance for their projects or activities.  These guidelines were built around a knowledge of Nancy’s concerns and passions, identified as matters relating to peace, indigenous concerns, matters relating to women’s education and leadership particularly in relation to music and mathematics, and also concerns of the local Blue Mountains meeting and Yearly Meeting.

Along with Brett Trenery and Sabine Erica, I was approached to become part of the working group to administer the trust.  The Blue Mountains meeting had had to become a legally incorporated body in order to be able to auspice the trust, and the meeting’s treasurer at the time, Myra Hutton, was therefore also an ex officio member of the working group.  An early task for the group was to consider how best to invest the money available.  Blue Mountains local meeting had determined that the fund would not need to preserve the capital indefinitely by relying only on interest for grants, as this would have limited how much money could be made available for projects and activities and possibly limited the group’s ability to fund any large-scale projects should they be presented for consideration.

The working group informed regional and local meetings that the fund was now open for applications, and developed an application form – something we wanted to keep as simple as possible.  An early decision of the working group was to send $10,000 to each of the regional meetings for them to be able to assist their members with either travel or study funds as they saw fit.  I think however that we also expected to be inundated with applications when we announce that the fund was “open for business”  but in fact, for a while, nothing happened. Then the first application was received in mid-2014, requesting funding for a music program for young people at a local school, and slowly the applications began to arrive.

Our job was to consider each application and discern whether or not they fitted the guidelines and reflected Nancy’s concerns.  We then made a recommendation which was taken back to Blue Mountains local meeting for a final decision.

The applications which have been received over the last three years have fallen into three broad categories – requests from individuals for assistance with study projects relating, usually, to peace or spiritual development;  requests for money for larger-scale projects such as the production of the People Power Manual; and requests for capital investment.  Most of these applications have been approved.

Growth, by Eloise Bertinat, Blue Mountains Grammar School, winner of the inaugural Nancy Shelley Peace Prize held in 2016

One particularly successful project was a Peace Prize – a venture where students from high schools within the Blue Mountains were invited to submit either an art work or written work which addressed peace in some way.  The committee received submissions from a wide range of students from all the schools, mostly of art works, and the quality and imagination of some of the submitted works was outstanding and very inspiring.  Judging of the art works was conducted by Jacque Schultz, and in October 2016 a prize night was held at the Wentworth Falls School of Arts.  It is hoped that the Peace Prize may be offered again in 2018.

Approvals are easy.  Not approving an application is, not surprisingly, less so.  Occasionally an application hasn’t been seen to fit the guidelines or to adequately explain its purpose.  We made a couple of difficult decisions which involved lengthy discussion and careful consideration and, ultimately, a decision to either request more information or decline the application.  In the process, we have learned a lot.  For example, we developed a checklist of things for applicants to consider; we became clearer that we would utilise the option to request more information and clarify specifically what we needed to know; we developed a protocol for requesting a report back to the working group and local meeting about how the funds were utilised.

We have also asked ourselves whether the NSBF should make funds available for capital works, and in conjunction with the Blue Mountains local meeting have considered that this is not a viable option, as the original intent of the fund was to focus on projects and activities which had outcomes relating to Nancy’s interests.  This in turn, however, has also led us to frequently wonder “would Nancy have wanted us to approve this particular application?”  This has been a deeper issue, leading us to recognise that we don’t have to treat Nancy’s interests as a constraint, but rather as a guiding spirit.  Following Nancy’s passions does not need to limit our capacity for discernment about what is valuable and relates to Quaker concerns.  In relation to this, the guidelines have now also been widened to include matters relating to the environment, one of our Quaker testimonies.

Recently, the working group revisited the application form and guidelines, and Jennifer Burrell(now our ex officio treasurer) and Jackie Perkins, the Clerk of Blue Mountains local meeting, recently talked about the fund at every opportunity at this year’s Yearly Meeting.  The working group membership is about to change, and new members will bring new insights and discernment.  The Nancy Shelley Fund is a living, evolving fund which it is hoped will allow Friends and friends to gain assistance to develop projects which contribute to the society in which we live.

The process of being involved in the Nancy Shelley Bequest Fund has been a valuable one for me.  As a newcomer to the Quaker community, I’ve learned a lot about Quaker processes.  I’ve appreciated the care and time each person in the working group has taken to consider the applications and tried to contribute to a final recommendation thoughtfully and honestly and listening for guidance.  And I have learned something about Nancy Shelley, a woman of vision, passion and generosity.


About Nancy Shelley

 Nancy Shelley was born in Victoria in 1926. She studied at Melbourne University attaining a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Mathematics, which was a lifelong passion of hers.

In 1952 Nancy went to the United Kingdom teaching mathematics at the High School for Girls in Northampton. At this time Nancy also developed her singing voice, and gave a number of recitals in the UK, including at Wigmore Hall, a prime recital room in London. Music continued to be significant to her and she regularly played the piano, violin and a range of recorders.

When back in Australia she became Headmistress at Woodstock Presbyterian Girls School in Albury (which no longer exists). Her approach was to assist the teaching staff to create an atmosphere of trust which enabled the students to affirm their own experience and remove obstacles to their learning – an approach which many former students appreciated and remember fondly years later. She wanted everyone to enjoy and understand mathematics. Nancy also introduced Quaker practices such as silent worship and group decision making to the school.

When Nancy returned to Melbourne she was employed at La Trobe University as a Senior Tutor, Lecturer and Research Fellow, and she helped form the International Organisation of Women in Mathematics Education.  So she was a good organiser, and motivated many people to achieve far more than they expected. She was also a lover of art, and her home in Canberra contained many paintings, drawings, wood carvings and ceramics sent to her from former students.

Being a Quaker was important to Nancy, with a life of simplicity, integrity in all of her dealings and a clear sense of equality, respecting that of God in everyone, and advocating for women’s equality and Aboriginal rights. Quakers have a history of writing to people in power, since the Peace Declaration written in 1660  to King Charles II. Following this tradition, Nancy wrote many letters to politicians, explaining her ideas, offering advice and encouragement, and congratulations when she felt they deserved it.  It was however the lack of global peace which greatly exercised her.

The 1980s was a time of demonstrations and rallies to raise awareness and to try to bring about nuclear disarmament. Nancy became a tireless volunteer worker for peace, recognising that peace requires action, not passivity and that the concept of peace is the overcoming of all forms of violence, not simply the absence of war. In 1982 Nancy attended the second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in New York. She also attended and spoke at many public meetings and rallies, spent time at the Women’s Peace Camp at Pine Gap, and did not shy away from talking to politicians, management and military officers to reach a better understanding. She was deeply concerned about the matter of child soldiers, and she was active in the campaigns to raise awareness of this here in Australia and overseas.  Her work in peace making was recognised with the awarding of the Order of Australia Medal in 1989.

To sum up her life, Nancy was a peace activist and longtime campaigner for the rights of indigenous people and children. She had a lively wit, a keen mind, and a genuine desire to help people achieve their potential, an amazing woman.  

Share This