Florence Henderson Davis

FLORENCE Henderson Davis was born and brought up in Brooklyn, New York, to where her grandparents had moved from Newfoundland. As a young woman, she joined the Grail, an international movement for Catholic laywomen which sought renewed roles and a relevant place for women in the modern church; for example as part of theological, liturgical and ecumenical developments following the Second Vatican Council.

She settled in Edinburgh in the early 1960s where she helped found the successful Grail Book and Art Centre. After several years of encouraging its flourishing activities, she married the leading Catholic theologian and writer Charles Davis, a prominent figure in the post-Vatican II debates.

Later the couple moved to Canada, where Charles had a post as professor of theology and where their two children were born.

In recent years, they returned to settle again in Edinburgh, where Charles later died. Not long before Florence’s own death, she had gone with her daughter to Newfoundland on a kind of pilgrimage to discover the family’s roots.

What do I most remember and what do I most hold dear about my friend Florence? If I am honest, recalling my earliest memories, I found her far too pushy and American, not at all "the thing" among Edinburgh folk. She stayed that way, actually! However, in a very short time, I came to recognise what an amazing, inspirational woman she was.

I first met her in the 1960s in the Grail Book and Art Centre in George Street, Edinburgh. It had white walls, pine bookshelves, a coffee bar, folk singing, etc. Old hat, nowadays. But, at that time, it was a beacon of light for Catholics, both men and women, who were trying to stay true to the faith, but also had to come to terms with the modern world. There was constant debate, prayer, group meetings and conferences, and a strong ecumenical strand.

In the centre of all this, was Florence: dynamic, charismatic, a life-enhancing person. She had the gift of discerning what people could do, or could be; and also of getting them to do it (Perhaps making them do it would be closer to the truth.)

She was excellent at bringing people together, forming networks, getting things going.

To lose such a friend is a deep grief. But to have known such a friend is a privilege indeed.