"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

31 October 2017

Remembering storyteller Elsie Moir

Elsie Moir sharing stories
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Elsie Moir this year. Elsie passed away peacefully on March 24, 2017 after a struggle with cancer. She was 84. Elsie had fought off two previous bouts with the illness but had decided to forgo treatment when it returned a third time in favour of some quality of life in the time she had left. She was surrounded by her husband Ian and a very close and loving family.

I met Elsie back at the beginning of 2011 when she signed up for one of my StoryCoaching groups in Edinburgh, Scotland. Elsie was 78 years old then, the oldest of our group. I remember her as a lively elder, full of wisdom, an indomitable spirit, and a twinkle in her eyes. We soon learned that Elsie was also a wonderful storyteller who could both entertain us with her original versions of children's tales and hold us spellbound with her accounts of her time working as a teacher in a black community in South Africa during the early 60s. The twelve years she and her minister husband Ian spent there in those years of apartheid deepened her commitment to social justice and active service to community.

Upon her return to Edinburgh, Ian was subsequently assigned as minister to West Pilton's Old Kirk. Elsie returned to teaching, taking up a post at her old school in Edinburgh's working class district of Granton. But after a year, Elsie decided to devote her life to helping her husband and the Church's work in the communities of West Pilton and Granton which was seeing an influx of many new immigrant families. Elsie was determined to make them feel welcome.

Elsie sharing a story at the "Gift of Story" evening,
Augustine United Church, Edinburgh, Feb. 2013 
Elsie, a stalwart supporter of educational opportunities for all, turned her talents to the creative arts. She established a Parents and Toddlers group as well as one to support parents. She encouraged the use of art, music, drama, and storytelling as she had done in South Africa. She also encouraged children and their parents to learn together inviting them to explore particular themes then present them as part of what was called the "Worship Workshops" to the entire community.

During the 2000s, Elsie went on to set up the Magic Carpet Club and, later, the Patch Club -- again both aimed at supporting children and parents in using the expressive arts to share their stories. During this time, Elsie began to explore her talents as a storyteller to accompany her musical and craft skills. By all accounts her stories were loved and cherished.

Elsie attended my StoryCoaching group for five years and in that time, we had the privilege of getting to know her well. She was an example of someone who did not let age (nor cancer) get in the way of her learning nor continuing to serve her community. She not only grew into a confident storyteller but also blessed the rest of us with her wisdom, honesty, and sense of humour. We often shared lunches or gathered in a nearby café where she would listen intently to another's story or share one of her memories of South Africa, a country and people she dearly loved. We never failed to be moved by her stories told without sentimentality. She had that knack of rooting historical fact in personal experience. You experienced events unfolding through her eyes and through the senses of those she knew first-hand.
Elsie Moir, storyteller and activist

I'm sure I speak on behalf of everyone who worked alongside Elsie in that group that she was a very special woman. I remember a special storytelling performance ("The Gift of Story") we gave at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh during February 2013 and how Elsie enthralled the audience with her story of the children's uprising in Soweto in 1976. I'll always remember her final words, "The bringers of the light must endure the burning."

Elsie's light shone bright and we endure the burning of her passing, yet I know her light will never be extinguished as long as we continue to remember her legacy and stories. I know I will for they are imprinted on my heart forever.

Elsie is survived by her husband Ian, sons Andrew, Neil, and Peter, her sister Anne, and her eight loving grandchildren.

Thank you to the North Edinburgh News for info and pics. And many thanks to Ian for bringing Elsie to our StoryCoaching group during those five years. Such a blessing!

Elsie Moir (centre) with parents and toddlers of Granton Parish Church

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"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

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