Spring Guest Dinner April 2011

On 19 April we were enormously honoured that Terry Waite CBE was our guest speaker in the Old Refectory.

Terry Waite, an exceptional humanitarian, writer and lecturer, spoke about ‘Survival in solitude. An account of five years totally alone’ with great humility, understanding, and often humour, on his time and experiences as a hostage in the Middle East at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

Fifty-three members and their guests were lucky to hear Terry Waite CBE at first-hand.

Anyone who remembers seeing the television news footage of him descending the aeroplane steps at the time of his release were struck by his enormous physical presence not to mention his mental capacity to have endured that time alone. An exceptional survival.

For those who did not see that footage, he was known the world over, at that time (and still is), for being himself on a peaceful mission to release other hostages only to find himself kidnapped and a hostage. To be known internationally as a household name at that time was almost unheard of by today’s standards of internet global Twitter or Facebook. That instant recognition is a measure of his stature and dedication to wellbeing amongst people. He ended his talk with a call for “more talk talk and less war war” (Churchill’s famous expression).

The work that Terry Waite undertakes worldwide meant that it took us four years to find a suitable date for him to attend.

Following a good supper enjoyed by everyone at tables of eight, he described how he had been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and then the physical processes with the mental challenges that ensued after he was kidnapped. The changing emotions, interrogations, how you “utilise your body” to sleep away “tension”, the physical changes; “skin goes white, no muscle tone, no sunlight, beard becomes long and white…old before my time....and the consequence of mind loss”. The acceptance of “my interior life journey” and “inner exploration”, “light is stronger than darkness” and “others suffered more than I” although “suffering need not destroy”. He also humorously described the time when he was later placed with another hostage and made the comment (and bear in mind that Terry Waite is very tall) “there’s not much room in here” - to which came the rapid response “there was till you got in!”.

After all those years in confinement it is no wonder that he is constantly spanning the world lecturing and helping those less fortunate than himself. He modestly revealed that he is always learning from other’s forgiveness of hard conditions or the loss of their relations and loved ones.

No one could but be impressed with Terry Waite, his capacity for humour coupled with dignity and common decency to all. It would be hard to find another who could compare with him in what he has given the world.


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