|The oldest parishioner at St. James, Vancouver, Diana Brown, with the youngest, Ana Greenaway-Robbins
As she approaches her 100th birthday and the special gatherings of family and friends that are planned, Diana Brown is fairly sparkling. With a glint in her eye and the excitement of a storyteller, she looks back across the events of a lifetime, reflecting on special people and memories, her choice to be an Anglican, the early decades of the 20th century in the Diocese and her life as a parishioner of St. James'. Diana tells the stories of her times in terms of people, and her affection for them is illuminating. Her anecdotal recollections could fill a book.
Diana's father, a Londoner with a classical education in Latin and Greek, left England in 1881 to purchase a huge cattle ranch in Colorado. He returned to England briefly and married Diana's mother at Brompton's Oratory in London in 1885. It's difficult to imagine that his wife, the elegant corseted woman carrying a parasol in a picture on Diana's wall, would take to life on a cattle ranch but Diana remembers how dearly she loved it. Diana too loved the ranch and laughs at the recollection of her educated father shouting at his cattle in Latin!
The family sold the ranch in 1916 after first donating some of the land to the local church for a cemetery. They moved to Vancouver's West End where Diana attended the original Crofton House School. Betty de Pencier, a school mate of Diana's, was the daughter of a cleric who, as Archbishop twenty years on, would consecrate the new St. James' church.
Diana's family and the de Penciers were very close and Diana and Betty became life-long friends.
Diana loved all sports, especially tennis, and she met her future husband in 1930 when one of the de Pencier sons invited her to a tea honoring the champions of Vancouver's tennis finals. One of the champions was Hugh Brown (who later became a high school principal) and his mother invited Diana and her friends over to their house for a celebratory dinner that evening. Diana and Hugh met again at a New Year's Eve party and went on to marry at St. James' Church in July 1931. They had two children, son Hugh and daughter Stephanie. Hugh was baptized by Bishop de Pencier in his chapel and Stephanie was baptized at St. James'. Both children were confirmed at St. James'.
Diana and her family loved the outdoors and spent a lot of holidays camping. She was a Girl Guide in her youth and her husband Hugh was a leader of their son's Boy Scout troop. She remembers the tract of land at Spanish Banks leased by the Scouts from the City of Vanouver for $1 a year as a site for weekend camps. She also remembers the Scouts building cabins on the North Shore mountains and has fond memories of cooking there for a Cub camp of 150 boys.
Diana recalls summer trips on the Union Steamships to Sechelt where the de Penciers had property at Norwest Bay. Bishop de Pencier would meet them in his old truck and drive them the rest of the way, singing loudly over all the squeaks and rattles! The Bishop loved to have dinner produced from his own land and much of the summer was spent fishing and picking blackberries. Diana's husband Hugh was very industrious and on one vacation trip organized all the fellows and roofed St. Hilda's church.
Reminiscing about her faith journey, Diana spoke of several of Vancouver's early churches. She recalls going to Sunday School at St. Paul's in the West End along with her friend Betty and most of the Crofton House girls. She clearly remembers her ranch-raised brothers going to St. Paul's in "their first 'city' clothes."
Eventually, St. James' became Diana's home through her own personal choice. Her mother, a strong Roman Catholic, married Diana's Church of England father. Diana explains that in those days it was necessary only to promise to bring children up believing in God, not necessarily in the Roman Catholic Church, and so there had always been in their home an openess about faith tradition. She recalls walking from their home in the West End to Holy Rosary Cathedral where she and her father would leave mother and continue on to St. James'.
Through Crofton House School, where Canon King from St. Paul's gave 'scripture' every Monday morning, and through the influence of her father and close family friends, the de Penciers, the Anglican tradition enfolded her. One day at age 16 she had a talk with Bishop de Pencier about becoming a Sunday School teacher. She came home and announced to her family that she would be confirmed at Holy Trinity church that very evening. Diana remembers that although her mother would never attend Mass at St. James' she loved to go for the beautiful service of Evensong.
Diana, whose 100th birthday is May 12th, has been part of the parish life of St. James' since her girl-hood. When asked to recall a special memory from all her years as an Anglican in this Diocese, her mind went immediately to a particular night in the 1920s when she was a young camper at Camp Artaban. She produced her written recollection of that night:
"There was a midnight blue sky with millions of stars shooting all over the heavens. Later on the Northern Lights swept across the sky - all colors! That night is emblazed in my memory. Morning came and our leader cooked bacon and eggs while we made toast and talked about our memorable evening. I gave thanks to God for what He had made possible."
Diana continues to be present at St. James' on Sunday mornings and was recently captured in a lovely photo with youngest St. James' parishioner Ana Greenaway-Robbins.
Reflecting on Diana's memories of the hundred years of history between their births, it is our turn to echo her words and "give thanks to God for what He has made possible" in the life and example of this remarkable woman.
Diana Brown was interviewed on April 9, 2008 by Linda Adams and Allan Duncan