Twilight of a Brilliant Career (Charlotte Maxwell)

By Larmondin, Leanne | Anglican Journal, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Twilight of a Brilliant Career (Charlotte Maxwell)

Larmondin, Leanne, Anglican Journal


She has shed her Africa clothes, leaving them behind in Johannesburg. Her final trip reports are in the works and Charlotte Maxwell is ready to retire.

It's been 22 years since Ms. Maxwell, 65, came to work for the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, on a one-year contract. She retires Nov. 30.

Normally allergic to sentimentality, she recently sat gamely through farewell dinners and tributes during a last official trip to Africa, which took her to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa.

Friends and partners presented her with plaques, paintings, cottons, an exquisite sculpture of a creche, and warm farewells.

Everyone who knows her asks what she will do in retirement. "Nothing."

This alarms those who fear doing "nothing" is impossible for someone with her drive. Still, she relishes the thought of waking up each morning not knowing what she will be doing for the next nine hours, the next week, the next three years.

She hopes to study philosophy, but her schedule is open. She will also likely write her memoirs, but would intend them only for her granddaughter.

Charlotte Maxwell came to work for the Anglican Church of Canada in 1980.

The route to 600 Jarvis St., the national office of the church and home to PWRDF (now separately incorporated), may have been predictable. Before then, she had been a public health nurse in downtown Toronto, a fundraiser and board member for a secular development organization, then a rabble rouser, writer and publisher of a newsletter raising awareness on the political situation in South Africa in the late 1970s.

She had volunteered with the development group Oxfam in the late '60s, eventually serving as chair of its Ontario board and on the national executive, then as chief fundraiser for Oxfam Ontario.

In 1979, she traveled to Africa for the first time, and gained an instant passion for the continent and its people.

She had had a long-time interest in the political situation of African countries, but had never been there. Feeling burnt out from a difficult year fundraising for Oxfam, she needed a break. Her husband suggested she go to Africa, since she had been working on African issues for years.

She left two weeks later.

Shortly after that trip, in 1980, the Primate's Fund offered her a one-year contract to do promotion and fundraising and produce educational resources. The work agreed with her -- she was able to return to Africa to document and photograph some of the work the organization was involved in -- and she stuck around. Her fundraising efforts for PWRDF brought more donations.

Then came the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-'80s and the world suddenly began to notice Africa.

"Our income nearly doubled in one year because of the Ethiopia crisis," she recalls.

By 1986, Ms. Maxwell had moved to PWRDF's new regional desk for Africa. At the time, the Africa desk was receiving considerable funding from the federal government, which would not channel development funds directly to South Africa because of that country's apartheid policies. The government did, however, recognize the churches' role in supporting the pro-democracy movement and it supported the Primate's Fund and its work with the South African Council of Churches.

The budget for the Africa desk in 1989-1990 was between $1.5 and $2 million.

Today, when more Anglicans worship in Swahili than any other language, PWRDF covers the continent through Ms. Maxwell, who is responsible for eastern and southern Africa, and Rob Shropshire who covers the Horn of Africa and francophone countries, such as Burundi, Zaire and Rwanda.

Around 1987, the Primate's Fund participated in consultations with African churches and made more deliberate efforts at true partnerships rather than just writing cheques.

Part of those partnerships involved helping African churches in what is known locally as capacity building -- developing skills at the provincial, diocesan and parish level to carry out the work of the church. …

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