Nancy Meek Pocock
Known as ‘Mama Nancy’ to the hundreds from around the world whom she helped in the course of her life, Nancy Pocock was a Canadian Quaker and Peace Activist whose home in Toronto became a shelter for refugees for over three decades. In 1987, the United Nations Association in Canada awarded her the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in disarmament, development and feminism. She was awarded the Order of Ontario in 1992.
Nancy Pocock was born in Chicago, and moved to Toronto with her minister father at the age of ten. After she graduated from the Ontario School of Art, she spent a year in Paris studying jewellery making. On her return, she opened her own jewellery store in Toronto.
In 1942, she married Jack Pocock. Shortly after, he went with the British Army to Europe, to be injured home just weeks before their daughter was born. Nancy Pocock joined the peace movement shortly afterwards and in 1950, they both joined the Quakers.
During the Vietnam War, the right of conscientious objection was only granted in the US on strict religious grounds, so many of those who objected to the War on other grounds fled to Canada. The Pococks’ home became the first port of call for many young American draft dodgers. They also provided shelter to refugees from Vietnam. “I had a big house and I didn’t see why I shouldn’t share it,” she said.
From 1962-73, Pocock was involved in running the Canadian Friends Service Committee’s Peace Centre on Grindstone Island. She took part in its annual Training Institute for Non-violence, including the ‘31 hours: the Grindstone Island Experiment,’ in 1965. She was a founder member of a number of peace campaigns, including the ecumenical Project Ploughshares, the nuclear disarmament campaign, Voices for Women for Peace, and the Canadian Peace Research Institute.
Jack Pocock died in 1975 shortly before the end of the Vietnam War. With his death, Nancy Pocock’s commitment to helping others, if anything, intensified. She travelled to Vietnam on several occasions, the first while the war was still on, and a medical clinic in Vietnam in named in her honour. She was awarded the Medal of Friendship from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1978.
In 1983, she visited Dallas as part of the Interchurch Committee for Refugees. There she learnt that Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees from the war in Central America were being turned back by the US authorities, and that Canada was not considered as a viable alternative because of its colder climate.
Pocock disagreed. On her return to Toronto, she established a committee and began welcoming Central American refugees to Toronto. She helped them find a place to live, obtained work permits for them, found them jobs and gave English lessons. Once again, her home became a permanent open house and often rang to the sound of Latin American music.
When the Canadian government instituted penalties for those helping undocumented refugees, Pocock responded, “If any country tells me I am a criminal, I’ll have to say I am obeying a higher authority.”
She became the coordinator of the Toronto Refugee Affairs Council, and continued to offer help and support to refugees from Iran, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Zaire and elsewhere. Her daughter estimated that she raised over $2M for refugee work. Towards the end of her life, she was organising Art Therapy classes for victims of torture.
“Retire? Why ever would I?” she declared at the age of 86. And indeed, she never did. Lying on a bed in the Emergency Room just days before she died, she was still signing papers for an Iranian Refugee.