Clarkson, Edith Margaret 1915 -2008


b Melville, Saskatchewan, W Canada 1915; d Shepherd Lodge, Toronto, Canada, 2008 Riverdale Collegiate Institute, Toronto Teachers’ Coll, and Univ of Toronto. A sufferer from arthritis and migraine since childhood, she testified that from her early years ‘God gave me a singing heart’. She discovered the treasures of her church’s hymn-book (St John’s Presbyterian, from age 4) while sitting through 45-minute sermons as a child, and later came to see the vital link between sound teaching and good hymns. At church she responded to the gospel by the age of 10 during a series of meetings based on The Pilgrim’s Progress. She memorised the Westminster Shorter Catechism and learned to love the Scriptures. She also loved to climb the cherry tree in the family’s back yard and sing hymns from the topmost branch; knowing scores of them by heart, she appreciated Watts, Newton, Havergal and the classic hymn-writers. At 12 she learned to play the piano, and wrote her first verses while still at school, some of which were published as hymns and are still in print. When she was 13 the family moved to a church where gospel songs were the main diet; she enjoyed these but preferred ‘real hymns’. In her mid-teens she also discovered the musical classics. At 20 she left home and found a church ‘with good preaching and good hymns’.

After training as a teacher she taught in primary schools in the far north of Ontario for 7 years, then for a further 31 in Toronto, sometimes combating considerable pain before and after surgery. She has published hundreds of poems, features, songs and sketches, and written 17 books in 7 languages (beginning with Let’s Listen to Music, 1944) including work on nature, education, glory, grace, and singleness. Her writing and occasional travelling continued in retirement; other enthusiasms include music, global mission and evangelism, student work, the natural world (especially birds) and her Bible. Her first hymn was not written until she was in her 30s; see no.720 and note. She served on N American hymnal committees, and some 110 of her own hymns written over 6 decades were collected, with autobiographical introduction, in A Singing Heart in 1987, the same year as a Hymn Festival was held in her native Toronto. The UK first recognised her writing in Christian Praise (1957), Hymns of Faith (1964) and the Anglican Hymn Book (1965); 3 texts feature in the 1974 Baptist Praise and Worship, and Praise! has her fullest representation to date. The 2004 CH includes 10; in N America 10 of her original texts feature in The Worshiping Church (1990), 9 in the Mennonite Worship Together (1995) and 7 in Worship and Rejoice (2001). Paul A Richardson chose 2 for his 2005 revision of A Panorama of Christian Hymnody (‘Her hymns express a conservative, evangelical theology in traditional poetic forms’) and also that year she was the only woman author since Fanny Crosby/van Alstyne to feature in Faith Cook’s Hymnwriters and their Hymns. Like Albert Bayly (qv), but few other writers of note, she was of the generation which made the transition from the earlier ‘thou’ language to ‘you’ forms of speech, but she resisted the more radical N American shift towards liberal feminism; she also wrote that ‘True hymn-writers have not sought primarily to write hymns, but to know God’. See also HSB 18.11, July 2008.

On March 17 2008, from her Toronto nursing home, Margaret went to meet the Lord she had served so faithfully and for so long. Although her final years were clouded by dementia, countless believers share her heartfelt prayer: ‘Lead on in sovereign mercy through all life’s troubled ways, till resurrection bodies bring resurrection praise!’ (Praise! no.960).

Nos.250, 257, 329, 353, 383, 512, 538, 720, 762, 798, 848, 960, 961, 1031.