CANADA – Remembering Rhea Whitehead

RHEA WHITEHEAD

The world is not the same without Rhea. It does not mean we crossed our paths often, but she was there at some important junctures of my life as a most trusted ally and a dear friend. Her presence was so comforting and reassuring knowing that we shared the same view of life, in dignity of all people, in justice and peace. We shared the good things in life too; fun and games, good food and wine, laughter and conversation.

When I was seriously contemplating a return to Canada after a decade overseas, it was Ray, her life partner, who told me about a job at the Canadian Council of Churches and urged me to apply. I didn’t know Rhea and Ray all that well at the time. What did they see in me? When I was short- listed and interviewed, Rhea was a member of the panel. After a few months at the Canadian Council, I heard someone quoting Rhea about my presence in the organization as “a breath of fresh air.” How reassuring that was when one was so uncertain about one’s place in the universe on a new job! That comment was more worth than the dozens of sessions on an analyst’s couch. At the time of my personal crisis, Rhea and Ray invited me to their dinner table, just to chat and check in.

We ran into each other, at the Canada-China Program, the Canada-Asia Working Group, the Human Rights Consultative Committee, and some other such things, during this period at the Council. I think she came to stay with us in Geneva when she was attending the UN Human Rights Commission. When I was Executive Secretary for the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada, Rhea was General Secretary of the Division fo World Outreach (DWO). We ran into each other frequently as the senior executives of the church. I could always trust her as an ally with the same views on the matter of faith, of society and the world.

After my retirement, I still saw her regularly at the DWO meetings. She kindly invited me to attend some international meetings on behalf of the DWO and the United Church. Although I never doubted that she trusted me, as a retired person who can easily feel useless and forgotten, her gestures of trust in those assignments were such a booster for my ego.

I thank God for Rhea and her life.

Tad Mitsui

* Rhea died on June 14th, 2011 in Toronto

Lethbridge, Alberta

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