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1. Tributes to HvS - Post-Funeral Reception, Garston Manor, November 18, 2006
2. The Marlin Family
3. Mother as a Montessori Teacher, by Sheila Marlin
4. Olga Marlin: The Dream that Made History (article)

HvS's Last Home. This was HvS's last home, 8 Castle Hill, Berkhamsted, where she lived for her last 20 years, outliving her husband Spike by 12 years, passing away peacefully in her bed with the view of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside. Her previous homes were on Castle Hill Avenue, also in Berkhamsted, where she and Spike moved in 1973; Patterson Street (Cleveland Park) and Chevy Chase, Washington, DC, where they lived from 1964 to 1973; and the Route de Troinex in Geneva, where they lived from 1962 to 1964. Prior to 1962, the family lived in Montreal, and before that in Washington, DC, where Spike was brought following an intensely competitive civil service exam, by the FDR administration.


Tributes (texts received)
- Elisabeth
- John


I would like to welcome all the friends and family of Hilda van Stockum/ Mrs Marlin/ Granny, especially those who have travelled long distances to get here, those who cared for her in her last years, those who shared her love of art, literature, Ireland, Holland, children, God. On behalf of my sisters and brothers, thank you for helping us celebrate Mother’s goodbye party!!

If there was one thing above others that Mother was good at it was parties. She used to say, “Don’t worry about the ordinary days, no one remembers them, but you must make an effort for special occasions.” And she always did.

Hospitality was one thing Spike and Hilda agreed on, and such generous parties they did organise! The lunches, the dinners. The balls we had in Ireland, with Chinese lanterns hanging from trees. Sheila’s birthday ball in Montreal with a handmade illustrated ball-book for every girl, and every year, wherever we were, the St Nicholas parties when she would dress up as the saint and distribute presents and sweets to as many children as she could find to gather round her.

Mother did love giving presents. It was too much fun to be restricted to birthdays and Christmas. We got presents on saints days, and when we were sick, and if there was anything to celebrate or be sad about. Visitors rarely left without a gift of a book or a sketch. When her beloved Tante Hessie got too old to shop for herself, Mother went out and bought her a pile of scarves, brooches and other trinkets, so she would always have something to give. Tante Hessie, being cut from the same cloth, had soon distributed all of these among the young Marlins.

I can’t think of anyone who ever asked Mother for help and got refused. I remember taking her to Westminster Cathedral for High Mass as a special treat. As we came out we were accosted by a woman with outstretched hand and a practised tale of woe. Mother immediately opened her purse and found a ten pound note for her. After, when I questioned the beggar’s veracity, she said, ‘You are probably right, but I couldn’t take the risk.’

Wherever she lived, Mother made friends. She always made friends with whole families, She found every member as interesting as the next, and if she spotted a child who seemed less happy, her heart went out to them, and she made them the focus of her attention. She often told the story of the time when she was four or five years old and she was sent to live with relatives. The children’s nurse made sure little Hilda knew her place as the charity child, less pretty and talented than her cousin. That petty cruelty, that sense of abandonment, and that glorious ending when her beloved parents took her back home provided her with the plot for almost every one of her books. One way or another, they are all about coming home.

Mother wrote from the heart and loved to hear if her books touched others. She always answered every fan letter she received, and she enjoyed the recognition they implied. As she once said, ‘I have achieved a certain fame, you know. The only trouble is, so few people know about it.’

She would have loved today. She would have loved the service with all her favourite hymns. She would have been right up there in the front pew, so as not to miss a thing. She’d have loved the readings by her children and grandchildren, the flowers and cards. And she would have been quite certain that the sunshine and glorious autumn colours, the bells that rang out unexpectedly, and the butterfly that fluttered round the church were all signs of God’s blessing on the event.

She would have loved the beautiful website John set up, and she would have read and reread every entry in the guest book and answered every one, as John has done.

And she would have just adored this wonderful room, so beautifully decorated and the magnificent banquet so lovingly provided by Sheila.

But most of all she would have loved seeing each one of you. She would have held her arms out wide for a hug and then she would have clapped her hands and said, ‘Oh what fun this is!! Vat gesellig!!

And then she would have said, ‘You see, God always makes things work out for the best. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t died!’


I am John, Hilda's second son. She has chronicled our early lives in so much idealized detail that we came to believe that the unreported childhood must not have been worth living.

Our loss is immeasurable, but Mom’s art and her books live on.

Our childhood was so important to us that on my first date with my wife Alice I brought her a copy of Friendly Gables and told her proudly that I was Timmy. It was my way of putting my best foot forward.

After the childhood we had, grownup life was a bit disappointing.

But we are lucky to have Mom’s books and her paintings to speak to us in her voice and remind us of her values, and remind us of what we still can do. In the letter to her children that Mom wrote when she was 88, she said she was looking forward to what we will yet achieve.

Now that she is watching us from heaven, we have all the more reason not to let her down.


Hilda van Stockum's six Marlin children are on three continents. Their identities in The Mitchells series (The Mitchells, Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables) are hereby unmasked now that nearly 50 years have elapsed and their fellow students can no longer tease them:

OLGA MARLIN - who was "Joan" in The Mitchells series - is with the Kianda Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya. She has helped create about 40 schools for girls in Africa, starting with the Kianda School. Her memoirs, To Africa with a Dream, were published by Scepter and have been translated into Spanish and Chinese.

BRIGID MARLIN - "Patsy" in The Mitchells series - is an artist living in Berkhamsted, Herts., UK. She is the author of From East to West published by Collins. She founded the Society for Art of Imagination. Several of her portraits of her mother are in private collections.

RANDAL MARLIN - "Peter" in The Mitchells series - is Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is the author of Propaganda: The Ethics of Persuasion, published by Broadview Press.

SHEILA O'NEILL - "Angela" in The Mitchells series - is an artist and Headmistress of several Montessori schools in the U.K., headquartered at Garston Manor, near Watford.

JOHN TEPPER MARLIN - "Timmy" in The Mitchells series, is Principal of CityEconomist, in New York City, and Adjunct Professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. He writes a blog for Huffington Post.

ELISABETH MARLIN - "Catherine" in The Mitchells series - is a doctor and medical professor and dean.


by Sheila O'Neill - Headmistress, St Andrews Montessori School

I first came to know about Maria Montessori in 1962 when I was engaged to Shane [the late Shane O'Neill] and living at home in Montreal. I needed to find something to study for a year while I lived in London to be near Shane before we were married the following August.

The London art schools had no places so Mother suggested that I take a Montessori course. I knew nothing about small children so I thought that this would prepare me for motherhood.

Mother told me how she and Granny had followed a course in 1932/33 with Maria Montessori at the Sion Hill Convent, Blackrock, near Dublin before she went to America to join her husband Spike. This was a course held at the same time in London. Miss Tromp conducted the Irish one but Maria Montessori came over to wind up the Dublin course.

Granny (Olga van Stockum Boissevain) had been interested in Montessori since 1916 and wrote articles in the Dutch Montessori Bulletin; (Mother gave me these articles dated 1922, 1928, etc., later on). Granny was involved because her sister, Hilda De Booy, helped form the First Montessori Lyceum of Amsterdam.

I looked at the lovely books she and Granny had made on the course. Mother's sketches of small children were delightful. There are very few students alive today who would have been taught by Maria herself.

Mother wrote an article, for the Montessori bulletin, called "Portrait of Maria Montessori as I knew her; my memories of Maria Montessori." It was published by AMI Communications in 1989. She describes Montessori as a darling - "small and birdlike, with a penetrating look and a sweet smile, full of warmth and a fountain of humour. She was simple, homely and likeable with a rich intelligence and a lovely soft, soothing musical voice. She was eloquent and moving when she spoke; her personality demanded respect."

Mother gave her homemade album to be examined and Montessori approached her, radiant. "I have seen your book and read every word of it." She praised her book highly and said it perfectly illustrated her ideas. She wanted Mother to give it to her but Mother pointed out that she would need it herself. She wanted Mother to work for her in New York when she arrived there, publicising and explaining her method.

So when Mother arrived in New York she taught the use of the Montessori material in the Child Education Foundation. Mother and Granny wanted Maria and Mario Montessori to visit an Irish family with 10 children and Maria thought that would be lovely. The children sang and did Irish dances for her and she really enjoyed that. This was in May Murray's cottage, which Mother wrote about in The Cottage at Bantry Bay.

When Granny joined Mother in Washington, D.C., she brought out a lovely set of Montessori material for us grandchildren. Brigid and I loved the colour tablets of silk thread which formed an introduction to learning about colour. Mother brought us up along Montessori lines and was pleased at our development.

I spent a year on my course and found it very taxing. We had to make our own books on the apparatus and presentations and I often worked late into the night in order to finish on time. My husband Shane was roped in to help me, and I managed to complete everything on time.

Just as it had happened with Mother, one of my tutors asked if the Montessori Society could keep my books as the pictures were so attractive but of course I needed them to teach the children. In my exams I was very proud to achieve a "Distinction," which is rarely handed out.

When my first child, Roisin was two and I was pregnant with Catrine I started my first Montessori school. We were very short of money so it was a way of earning an income whilst looking after my own babies. Fortunately in those days there were no policies and registrations to prevent babies from being in the same room as three to five year olds. Shane made the school a lovely wooden climbing-frame which lasted for twenty years. Over the years I saw my children through the nursery years, then my sister Liz's children and finally my youngest child Ailise till she was seven as we had extended our age group.

I then put my energies into expanding my schools until I reached 13 Montessori schools in total. I am now nearly back to one as I prepare for retirement. Three of my four daughters are Montessori directresses and all seven grandchildren have attended our Montessori School.

The Montessori Method prepares children for the future; as Wordsworth put it, “The child is father of the man.” I can see how Mother's manner of bringing us up was influenced by this method. She allowed us a lot of freedom but within boundaries. When I was an adolescent and going out with boyfriends, Mother did not fuss about my being back early because she said she 'trusted us' and believed in our good sense and wise choices,making us responsible for our actions. She brought us up on strict Catholic rules(she was a convert) and they acted as a boundary as well!

She also discussed problems with us children, and helped us to think and debate and was a sympathetic listener. She was an excellent role model and inspiration; very good at observing but not interfering in her children's activities. These observations soon gave her enough information to fill many books. Like Montessori, Mother was our liberator and we were all encouraged to follow our own paths - she always supported and believed in us.

Mother also made life fun and enjoyed entertaining. She was happiest when surrounded by family. We were there for her during her last few weeks and she loved having us around her. Before she died she gave each of us a special blessing.

She died on All Saints Day to join the saints and I am sure there was a big celebration as she was welcomed into heaven as a specially loved favourite for she was as dedicated to God as she was to her family and this showed through in her books, pictures, poems, talks and her daily life.


She left the comfort of Europe to empower African women. The impact is continental, writes Lilian Aluanga.

October 18, 2005
The Sunday Standard, by Lilian Aluanga (Nairobi, KENYA)

(Photo, not reproduced here, available at http://www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=11181.) Olga poses for a picture with some of the current Kianda School students.

She enjoys eating nyama choma and ugali, knows Kenya better than many post-Uhuru citizens and has witnessed the country’s transition from colonialism to Independence under Jomo Kenyatta, to Daniel Moi and on to Mwai Kibaki.

Most importantly though, she has made her contribution — though quietly away from the media glare — to the making of modern Kenya.

At 27, an age when many women in her birthplace would be thinking of starting families and living in dainty cottages with picket fences, she chose to give up the comfort of Europe and accompanied a group of eight women who were coming to live in Africa.

She landed in Kenya. The country changed her. She embraced it as home, became a citizen, and set out to do her best to make her new home, then trapped in racial discrimination, a better place.

Meet Olga Marlin, a founder member of the Kianda Foundation — the pioneer in setting up a multi-racial secretarial school at the height of the liberation struggle in Kenya.

Olga made the journey from Ireland in 1960 not out of a sense of adventure, but because of a deep conviction that God wanted her to do something for Him with her life.

Now in her 70’s — and still every inch as elegant, charming and poised as she was in her late 20’s — Olga remains modest, though happy, about her role in helping lay a foundation for thousands of African women who are now top executives in various organisations both locally and internationally.

To Olga, the eldest child in a family of six, African women were in a vicious circle those days: "They needed education for freedom and freedom to be educated."

And her efforts paid off, judging from the list of some of Kianda’s former students. From Health Minister Charity Ngilu to Evelyn Mungai-Eldon, founder of the Evelyn College of Design; from Pamela Mboya, the late Tom Mboya’s wife, to Honourable Victoria Sebagarika, an MP in Uganda; from Christina Kenyatta-Pratt to Gaone Masire-Moyo, the successful daughter of Botswana’s ex-president Ketumile Masire; from Zipporah Mayanja, a top Ugandan diplomat in Belgium to Hannah Rubia, the wife of Saba Saba hero Charles Rubia. It is a long list of strong African women, who no matter the direction they took, they excelled.

[(Photo, not reproduced here.) Olga and other members of staff show President Jomo Kenyatta a photo album of the college when the late leader visited the college in 1970.]

To date, Kianda, a household name in secretarial studies, has seen hundreds of thousands of girls pass through its doors, a far cry from its humble beginnings in a tiny cottage along Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way with only 17 students.

Born in New York City 1934 to Ervin Ross Marlin and Hilda Gerarda van Stockum, Olga remembers travelling a lot as a child thanks to her father’s status as an employee of the United Nations.

She attended primary school in Washington, before the family moved to Montreal Canada in 1947, where she completed her secondary school before joining the Trinity College in Dublin for a Masters in Modern Languages.

"My father had always wanted me to go to Trinity College because that was where he studied and also met my mum," she says. Although the family moved back to Canada, Marlin chose to stay on in Ireland, where her life would forever be changed when she met members of Opus Dei (Work of God), a personal prelature of the Catholic Church.

"Never in my whole life did I think I would meet a saint," she says in reference to the founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaria Escriva. Olga laughs as she continues, "When I was 10 years old, I used to tell people that I would like to get married and have 10 children.

"My attitude towards life was totally changed and I felt that God wanted me to serve him in some way," she says.

Therefore, when Olga was selected as part of a group of eight women whom St Josemaria chose to send to Kenya, she was only too happy to comply even though she knew it wouldn’t be easy.

But nothing had quite prepared her for the shocking reality on the ground. She arrived in Kenya when residential areas were segregated, as were clubs, schools, restaurants, and even the public transport system.

Social interactions between the races was taboo, and Olga and her group soon realised that they would have a difficult time selling the idea of a multi-racial school that would see white students learning side by side with their Asian and African peers.

Initially the idea was to set up a finishing school which would give African women a chance to acquire secretarial skills in courses that would help them get better jobs and uplift their living standards. At the time, Olga says, people thought they were mad to even come up with such an idea, but a female member of the Kenyatta family whom the group met soon after their arrival, gave them the courage to move on.

(Photo, not reproduced here.) Retired President Moi is introduced to a member of staff at the college in 1981.

"You have arrived at a very good time to open a school for girls. Our women need education to become self-reliant, respect themselves and make themselves respected. This can only happen when they are financially independent. Your school should provide them with the necessary skills," the Kenyatta family member said.

After a brief teaching stint at Kenya High School, then a whites-only school, Olga moved on to carry out their vision.

By 1961, after months of giving music lessons and coaching students in various subjects to raise money, the group was ready to start.

But there was a problem. One of the students was Goan and the city council would hear nothing of registering Kianda, first located in Valley Arcade — a white residential area — and two with a non-European student on board.

They would first have to seek the approval of the residents, the council said.

Her proposal to the residents was flatly rejected and Marlin was crushed. "It was simply one of the worst moments of my life," she says.

She then knew that they would have to move out of the area if their mission to give African girls a chance to study was to be fulfilled.

One of her students offered to help. Her father, Paddy Rouche, owned an estate agency in Nairobi’s Westlands and had just identified a parcel of land along Waiyaki Way (Kianda School’s present location), which was on the border of a reserve on which the Japanese embassy also stood.

At this time, the government also decided to declare some plots in the area multi-racial and Kianda (Kikuyu for valley) finally found a home which would be led by Olga until 1980.

It would be the first of several educational institutions put up by the Kianda Foundation in its quest to uplift the educational standards and general welfare of women in Kenya.

Registered in 1961 in Nairobi, its development has over the years given rise to a primary and secondary schools as well as the Kibondeni Catering School and the Kimlea Girls Technical Training College in Kiambu.

[(Photo, not reproduced here.)Mama Ngina Kenyatta is shown around the college on a visit in the 70s.]

The latter has saved hundreds of girls from the degrading and exploitative child labour rampant on the coffee plantations in the district.

Although Marlin now had a place to put up the classrooms, a more difficult task awaited her — convincing African parents to allow their daughters to enrol for secretarial courses at the college.

"Most of them were hesitant to allow their daughters to be trained as secretaries and feared that they would become wayward and get lost in Nairobi," she says.

Eventually, they got their first African student — Evelyn Mungai-Eldon — who set the pace for her peers and was an articulate, hardworking student able to hold her own even though she was obviously different.

Says Olga, "She used to walk to school everyday and was bright and very competitive in class."

Evelyn did well in her studies and landed a job with the East African Community on completion of her one-year training.

Kianda increasingly became popular, especially with large organisations in the region due its high quality training. It attracted students and teachers from as far as Greece, Mexico, Spain, US, Ireland, France, Egypt, Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda, and Tanzania.

At Independence, the school lost some of its white students, who in fear of reprisals from Africans, chose to go back home. But the numbers picked up again as the demand for secretaries grew in a newly independent Kenya and the wider east African region.

So impressed with Kianda College were companies that they proposed the start of a bonding programme with the college. Under this programme, the organisations agreed to pay a year’s fees for the girls, inclusive of boarding and pocket money, so long as the girls signed an agreement to work with the companies upon graduation. Bursaries were sourced for girls from poor backgrounds without corporate sponsorship.

Long before the country gained independence, Olga had forged deep friendships with the wives to some of the men who were later to hold high positions in government. Most of them had gone through Kianda and Olga made up her mind to ask them for help.

[Photo, not reproduced here)Tom and Pamela Mboya on a visit to the college.]

While some of her colleague went overseas to raise funds from well-wishers, Olga sought out her old students. One of them was Pamela, who married Tom Mboya. Another was Hannah, the wife of Nairobi’s first African Mayor, Charles Rubia.

She recalls a visit to Rubia’s office at the time: "He was very gracious and understood my dilemma and the need to empower these girls. I will never forget what he said to me: ‘Olga, we knew each other when you were nobody and we were nowhere. I will help you’."

She remembers Tom Mboya as a robust trade unionist whom she was humbled to meet.

"I was introduced to Tom by Jemima Gecaga (a sister to Dr Njoroge Mungai)." Her ties to the Mboya’s would later see him sponsor several students to Kianda before his tragic death through an assassin’s bullet.

Just before he died in 1969, Mboya sent the current Kisumu Mayor Prisca Ouma to meet Olga.

She was the last student he was to send to the college.
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