Standing up for the oneness of humanity

August 22, 2003
Ruth Pringle with a colleague, Jacqueline Left Hand Bull at a pow wow in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, Canada, 1991.

CIUDAD COLON, Costa Rica — Long before segregation of the races was outlawed in the United States, Ruth Pringle stood up in support of the oneness of humanity.

It was in the late 1930s and Ruth Yancey (as she was prior to marriage) arrived as a student for her first lecture at a school of nursing in the American south.

Unlike the other African American students, Ruth firmly refused to sit in an area set apart for those who were not white.

It was more than a decade before she was to become a Baha'i and start her life's work of spreading the teachings of unity, especially to the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

As a Continental Counsellor, Ruth Pringle performed such outstanding service that after she passed away on 22 August 2003, aged 83, the Universal House of Justice praised her as an "intrepid champion" of the Faith of God.

In the 1930s, and even up to the 1950s, victims of racism in the United States were expected to accept oppression without complaint.

That was not in Ruth's character. She made it very clear to her fellow African American students that she would never comply with segregation in the classroom.

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She refused to do so -- even when called to the Dean's office to explain herself.

As a result of her principled stance, other students gradually moved out from the fenced-off area.

After completing postgraduate courses in surgical nursing and operating room technique in Chicago, Ruth practiced as an operating room nurse and graduated with a degree in zoology and chemistry.

She became a Baha'i the first time she read the Writings of Baha'u'llah.

"Such marvels were unveiled before my eyes that both my heart and mind were kindled and set afire -- now I knew what I must do," she wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

In 1953, two months after her acceptance of the Faith, she left for Puerto Rico as a "pioneer" to assist in building up the Baha'i community there.

In 1956 she moved to Honduras, spent a year in Guatemala, and then returned to Honduras.

In the evenings, after working long hours as a registered nurse, she conducted weekly Baha'i youth activities at her home. They often attracted some 100 young people from all strata of society.

Ruth participated in projects to establish Local Spiritual Assemblies, including in Nicaragua where she pioneered on the eastern coast of that country. In 1961 Ruth was elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly there.

Following the death of the then Head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, in 1957, at least five Hands of the Cause visited Central America.

"All these Hands had a profound influence on my formation and perhaps the direction of my Baha'i life," she wrote.

She said that one of them, Dr. Rahmatu'llah Muhajir, had introduced her to what she and her coworkers had been searching for -- "the sweetness of witnessing" the establishment of the first all-indigenous Baha'i community in Nicaragua.

Her marriage to Alan Pringle was the first Baha'i wedding to be legally recognized in Panama.

Taking the Baha'i teachings to indigenous people became their principal aim in life, and they made strong links with the native Guaymi people.

"Results were immediately forthcoming, and hundreds of indigenous believers were enrolled, and all-indigenous assemblies were formed," she wrote.

Both Ruth and Alan Pringle, as members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama, attended the 1963 International Convention in Haifa, Israel, to participate in the first election of the Universal House of Justice.

At the subsequent World Congress in London, Mrs. Pringle had the honor of giving an address on the topic of "Victories of Pioneers". She was on the same panel as Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga.

In November 1963, she was appointed as an Auxiliary Board member, and traveled extensively in pursuit of her duties.

She spoke at international and inter-oceanic conferences, and in 1975 had what she described as "the inestimable privilege" to serve with the "Green Light Expedition", a major journey for the Baha'i Faith undertaken in South America by Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, a Hand of the Cause and the widow of Shoghi Effendi.

In 1980, Mrs. Pringle was appointed to the Continental Board of Counsellors, a position involving sustained hard work and constant journeys overseas.

In this capacity, she traveled to some of the remote parts of the world, guiding and encouraging young Baha'i communities.

She worked for the rights of women and dedicated herself to the establishment of the Guaymi Cultural Center and radio station in Soloy in the province of Chiriqui, Panama.

Her next-door neighbor in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica, for the past 15 years, Jere McKinney, said she was known for her quick wit, her ready laugh, her superb hospitality, and her grasp of where Baha'is should direct their efforts.

Mr. McKinney described how Mrs. Pringle would travel in remote parts of the country on very basic transport and arrive full of enthusiasm to assist the Baha'is and speak about the Faith.

One day in Honduras he accompanied Mrs. Pringle to meet a very poor lady in a simple hut with an earthen floor and adobe walls.

"Ruth pretty much swept her away with her love and hugs and words of encouragement," he said, adding that the lady remembered her visit for years afterwards.

Just two weeks before her death, Mrs. Pringle went to Jamaica to attend the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the first Local Spiritual Assembly there.

In her typical fashion, and despite suggestions that for her health's sake she might slow down, she had a series of meetings with Baha'is -- especially youth -- spent an hour discussing the Faith with a senior official, and gave a talk about the early days of the Faith's activities on the island.

She also participated in a devotional meeting broadcast on the radio by reading a passage from the Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude), by Baha'u'llah.

After returning home to Costa Rica, Mrs. Pringle passed away. She is survived by her husband.

In a message of tribute to Mrs. Pringle, the Universal House of Justice wrote:

"Her magnificent career, spanning a full-half century and including two decades of splendid, resolute service as a Continental Counsellor, has shed new and fresh luster upon the American Baha'i community's historic world mission."

Noting her promotion of the Faith among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the message continued: "May her devoted and energetic life inspire present and future generations to emulate her shining example."

The Universal House of Justice asked National Spiritual Assemblies to arrange befitting memorial meetings in her honor throughout the Americas and in both Houses of Worship there.