July 8, 2012

Dr. Stanwood Cobb

Dr. Stanwood Cobb presenting a talk in Atlanta, Georgia, shortly before his passing in 1982 at the age of 101. (Baha'i News, March 1989)

To review Dr. Cobb's life is to make a beautiful and heavenly journey through those marvelous years beginning with the early dawn of the Bahá'í Faith in the United States when news of this 'new Revelation' and of the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Holy Land reached the ears of a few 'ready souls', aroused their curiosity, quickened their hearts and resulted in their making their way to 'Akká in an ever-increasing stream to enter the Master's presence.

An account of Dr. Cobb's introduction to the Bahá'í Faith in 1906 is given in his Memories of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and in Star of the West, Vol. 15, No. 1, April 1924. He was at that time studying for the Unitarian ministry at the Harvard Divinity School but was drawn to Green Acre in Maine as a result of a series of weekly articles in the Boston Transcript. Miss Sarah Farmer introduced Dr. Cobb to the singer, Mary Lucas, who had just returned from visiting 'Abdu'l-Bahá. '… within half an hour from that moment I became a confirmed Bahá'í and have remained so ever since,' Dr. Cobb wrote.

After graduating from Dartmouth College and taking an MA. in philosophy and comparative religion at Harvard, Dr. Cobb served as an instructor at Robert College in Constantinople from 1907 to 1910, an experience that led to the publication of his first book The Real Turk. During this interval Dr. Cobb met 'Abdu'l-Bahá on two occasions. The first meeting was in 1908 when 'Abdu'l-Bahá was still a prisoner of the Turks. On this occasion the pilgrim disguised himself as a Turk in order to attain the Master's presence, spending several days as a guest in His home in 'Akká. Mrs. Lua Getsinger, whom Dr. Cobb had encountered by chance in Cairo, had encouraged him to accompany her on this most significant of journey.

'Again it was my privilege to visit 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the summer of 1910,' writes Dr. Cobb, 'and this time at His own invitation -- spending a week there in the Persian guest house on the slopes of Mt. Carmel. ‘He seemed to me more noble in countenance more regal in bearing, mote potent in the power of His presence than ever before.'

Later Dr. Cobb was to again enter the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in France and in the United States during the course of the Master's historic travels. Dr. Cobb related that while teaching at Robert College he suffered severe depression. During the course of one of his visits to the Master, 'Abdu'l-Bahá took him aside, held his hand and sat with him quietly. The depression lifted and never returned. Indeed, sunniness of disposition, cheerfulness of outlook and uncomplaining acceptance became Stanwood Cobb's outstanding characteristics.

He returned to the United States from Constantinople to pursue a career in education and writing. He published approximately twenty books on religion, education and philosophy, and several volumes of verse. He made his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where, in 1918, he organized the Progressive Education Association which has exerted a profound influence on education in the United States. He established the Chevy Chase Country Day School where he was able to put into effect his ideas about education. His wife, Nayam Whitlam, a Canadian Bahá'í, was of considerable assistance in this activity until their retirement in 1958. In 1935 Dr. Cobb founded Avalon Press through which he published his works. Some of his better known publications that deal with the principles of the Bahá'í Faith are: Security for a Failing World, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Islam's Contribution to Civilization and the pamphlet America's Spiritual Destiny. Among his books dealing with the development of the individual are Discovering the Genius Within You -- a book which proved very popular -- and Character: A Sequence in Spiritual-Psychology. His autobiography, Saga: A Tale of Two Centuries, appeared in 1977.

In 1924 Dr. Cobb was invited to serve as editor of Star of the West and until 1939 he acted as coeditor of its successor, World Order, with various distinguished Bahá'ís including Mariam Haney, Horace Holley, Edna True and Jinab-i-Fadil. Almost every issue of this publication carries an editorial signed or initiated by Dr. Cobb on a large variety of significant topics reflecting his wide range of interests. He was a popular lecturer on the Faith at public functions and informal firesides and a sought-after teacher at Summer Schools. To the end of his life he possessed an amazing memory for names, dates, places and historical facts, and seldom if ever used notes when giving an address. He kept well informed about current events and world affairs.

He was a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Washington, D.C., at the time of its incorporation in 1933, and until his one hundredth birthday frequently lectured at the weekly public meetings held at the Bahá'í Centre there. He mingled with noted authors at the Washington Cosmos Club of which he was a member, and had many distinguished friends among the clergy.

Shoghi Effendi warmly appreciated Dr. Cobb's services to the Faith as the following excerpt, appended in the Guardian's hand to a letter written on his behalf on 5 September 1943, attests: “Your services to our beloved Faith have been such as to reflect luster on its institutions and literature, and I pray from the depths of my heart that Bahá'u'lláh may graciously guide and assist you to render through your able and ready pen still greater and more distinguished services.”

Although content with a simple life style, Dr. Cobb was a highly cultivated person and had a taste for the arts. He believed strongly in and greatly valued the power of prayer, and many of his friends would come to ask for prayers on their behalf. Often he could be seen sitting on his porch at Chevy Chase or on the screened veranda at Green Acre meditating and supplicating on behalf of loved ones. Young people sought him out and he was something of the 'wise man' in our midst. He loved youth and had great faith in their potential. Always he urged them to immerse themselves in the Teachings, acquire spiritual virtues and -- in the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá -- Be on fire with the love of the Kingdom! He was a happy man and whatever he did seemed to be achieved without stress, strain or struggle. Vigorous and young at heart, he was a frequent guest at youth conferences.

During the final weeks of his life he often referred to his last meeting with 'Abdu'l-Bahá which occurred in Washington: He embraced me at the end, kissed me, and said three times, ‘Be on fire with the love of the Kingdom!' Stanwood Cobb was indeed on fire with the love of the Kingdom to his last breath after some seventy-five years of service to the Bahá'í Faith.

Dr. Cobb passed away at age one hundred and one in his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on 29 December 1982, having achieved his ambition to live for a full century. His passing to the eternal realm robs us of yet another priceless link with the early period in the rise of the Bahá'í Faith when seekers hastened into the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and returned home to inspire others with the Glad Tidings and to strive zealously to lay the foundations of the burgeoning World Order of Bahá'u'lláh.

Cablegram dated 31 December 1982 from the Universal House of Justice:

Grieved passing Stanwood Cobb. His longtime services Cause beginning as contributor Star of the West and subsequently coeditor World Order magazine earned high praise beloved Guardian. His scholarly achievements specially field education have greatly enriched literature Faith. Praying Holy Shrines progress his soul Abha Kingdom.  (Adapted from the Baha'i World, vol. 18)