There was standing room only when Auckland members said farewell to our beloved Isobel Thompson who died over Queen’s Birthday weekend in her 94th year. More than 150 friends and family came to the Friends House in Mount Eden Road, Auckland, to celebrate her long and eventful life. Consul-General Niu reminded us how Isobel had been a friend in need for China when, in 1947, she responded to an appeal from Mme Soong Ching-ling [Song Qingling] and the China Welfare Institute for relief nurses to work in China.
CORSO arranged for Isobel to travel to China with other New Zealand nurses and, from 1947 to 1950, she lived and worked in Henan and later Shanxi, often travelling by mule cart and through war zones, and then Shanghai. On returning from the interior of China, dressed in the CORSO standard blue uniform, Isobel remembered thinking that all Westerners looked the same, whereas all Chinese looked like individuals!
Isobel’s detailed diaries and letters home later formed the basis for her book, “Yellow River, Mules and Mountains – A New Zealand Nurse in China 1947-1950″, which she published in 2002. Her book was translated into Mandarin and few who attended the Society’s 60th anniversary conference in 2012 will forget the moving moment when visiting VIP Mr Liao Hui remained standing to applaud Isobel after she had presented him with a copy of her book in Mandarin.
Mr Niu said Isobel was a household name in China, not just because of her help but also for her great love feelings and understanding of China.
His remarks were echoed in a letter of condolence he read from Mr Xie Yuan, Vice President Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (Youxie), who said it was because of the contributions made by international friends like Isobel that China was able to achieve the progress it has over the past 60 years.
Other activities of Isobel’s were the National Council of Women, Forest and Bird Society, Coromandel Forest Protection, homework centres, Probus, Tai Chi, NZ China Friendship Society and Japan Society. In a letter of condolence, Auckland member Estella Lee reminded us that Isobel had been the driving force behind the development of a bird wetland in Michaels Avenue, the street where she lived for 60 years.
At her memorial meeting she was described as a woman with a beautiful soul and heart who was revered by family and friends and colleagues in the many areas of work with which she was involved. Her Quaker Friends said she was both weighty and light-hearted while her granddaughters expressed their appreciation of her help and advice.
George Andrews (VP North Island Northern), June 2014
On Wed 25th June, 2014, Radio NZ aired a 13 minute segment “The passing of a Quiet New Zealand Legend“, by Lynda Chanwai-Earle, about Isobel. During the broadcast Consul–General Niu Qingbao and George Andrews give their impressions of Isobel’s contribution as a CORSO nurse in China during the 1940s and her work in New Zealand promoting China on her return.
You can listen to that broadcast by clicking here. The webpage also gives a summary of the life of Isobel and her work and a gallery of images.