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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 7 June 2007
£20 to a good cause from a man who preached hatred

WHEN I first started this column I wondered if anybody outside my family, friends and immediate acquaintances bothered to read it. Was the paper only publishing my thoughts for novelty value, to lay claim to the world’s oldest columnist? Then I started getting letters, phone calls and cards. Others were actually reading me.
Those who now contact me include so many good people doing great things, often agreeing with what I write. It’s very encouraging, although it feels to me that I am just an ordinary woman saying what sounds like plain common sense.
We no longer hear of people representing our ordinary views in parliament. It appears to champion nothing but gambling, competition, globalisation, private equity investment and privatisation. Very few people I meet seem to be calling for these things.
One shining example of ordinary people caring is the delightful Perry Anderson, who wrote to me from The Michael Young Fund sending a charming note inside a printed card, attaching a £20 note for me to give to somebody according to principles laid out in the card.
A (Lord) Michael Young I knew was involved in many wonderful causes. The Michael Young of this fund was not him.
Receiving this card and this gentleman’s kind words gave me such pleasure and inspiration that I’m taking the unusual step of quoting his message here.

“The (Michael Young) Fund was established to disburse a small sum of money left by the late Michael Young who died in August 2000 shortly after his 100th birthday.
“He was not a good man – quite the opposite. He was strongly anti-Semitic, had a deep-rooted distaste for coloured people, who he feared would pollute the white races, propagated a mean-spirited and unforgiving interpretation of Christianity.
“He paraded these beliefs under the banner of patriotism, was a founder member of the League of Empire Loyalists and claimed, with pride, that he tipped a bucket of offal over Jomo Kenyatta, at that time President of Kenya, a member of the Commonwealth.
“He corresponded with, and supported financially, Lady Birdwood and John Tyndall of the British National Party as well as various fringe religious movements. He wrote a number of poisonous pamphlets.
“He was wholly self-centred, had no interest in anything beyond his Bible studies and preparation of his meals, neither read a newspaper nor stirred out of his house for the last 10 years of his life. It is hard to find any redeeming feature in the man.
“So, it seemed a nice idea to pass a little of the money he left to some of the individuals and small organisations who try to do some good in the world, and, where possible, to
ones he would have
disapproved of.”

I was so tickled by this that I felt compelled to comply with his wishes. Here’s what I did.
Cambridge University student Ben Jaglom, grandson of a fellow resident here, took part in an event organised by Aegis, a charity fighting and campaigning against genocide.
A group including many refugees, some survivors from Hitler’s concentration camps, others from the Darfur region of Sudan, walked together from Cambridge to London to spotlight the plight of and help raise money for Darfuri refugees.
The poor boy’s feet became so blistered that after only 40 miles he had to go to hospital. Fortunately, he quickly recovered to carry on his good work and was able to attend their rally in London.
A young man walking and working with Jewish and African refugees to draw attention to and raise support for African refugees, highlighting the dangers of racism and genocide. Could anything be further from the wishes and actions of Michael Young? So it gave me especially great pleasure to donate Michael Young’s £20 to Ben’s fundraising efforts for Aegis and add to it.
For me, the Michael Young Fund is a wonderful example of somebody turning bad into good, taking what to all intents and purposes is an instance of evil and transforming it into something positive and through this, making the world just a little bit better. It’s something we could all learn from.
One of my most inspiring friends, Jo Hanson, a brilliant, talented San Francisco artist who died three months ago, built an international reputation, won awards and became a professor of art based on a lifetime of creating stunningly beautiful art from other people’s rubbish, turning something negative into something sublime.
Mere days before her death she painstakingly wrote me a list of principles supporting her conviction that “ideas become things”, in type so large that even I could read it.
Nineteenth-century utopias and 1930s New Jerusalems became our welfare state of the 1940s and 1950s. Out of Beethoven’s misery and deafness came the Ninth Symphony. The examples are countless.
Like Jo Hanson and the good Michael Young’s charitable work, ideas do become things and can change the world.
So, to all readers of my column, I throw out this challenge: what are you doing to make something good out of something bad? What will you do to change the world?

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